What I Learned

Robin is Jimmy’s best friend Willie’s dad. Robin, his wife, Shelby and Willie were Jimmy’s second family. One of Jimmy’s favorite things to do on a Saturday night was to hang out at the Milam house playing Madden with Willie, eating Robin’s amazing meals and drinking Shelby’s signature milk shakes. Sometimes when a father grieves, the son he’s missing isn’t his biological child.

This is what I learned from Jimmy — fish cough. Also, the Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters. These are kind of, but not really, useful facts found on a Snapple bottle cap. Why are they important? For one thing, they are Jimmy. He was amused by oddball stuff. So am I. Jimmy loved to quote the trivia found on Snapple lids but that and other seemingly normal, run-of-the-mill activities such as playing a video game, shooting hoop, watching a TV show added up to what really matters — every moment gives each of us a chance at joy, the experience of something fun. Every moment is meaningful. It may sound trite, yet I watched Jimmy live this way with apparent ease.

But it was not easy. Cancer negates the easy. Which leads to another thing I learned from Jimmy — nothing is too big to handle.

The cancer Jimmy lived with from 13-21 years of age was too big, but not to Jimmy’s way of thinking. It was a roadblock, but not a reason to change who he was. Cancer didn’t lessen Jimmy nor did it elevate who he already was. He was never going to not be Jimmy. Whenever I saw him, it was all about me or this or that or the other, not him. He wanted to know how I was doing. What did I think about the Washington Redskins or the Florida Gators? How did I feel about a particular political issue or moral dilemma? So out would come my messy jumble of frequently circular talk, after which I’d ask for his take. He would ponder for a bit, then offer a comment in his calm, measured way. It was always more interesting and balanced than mine. Maybe it’s because he never seemed judgmental, even when giving an opinion. And I would think, why can’t I be like that? Of course, the answer was obvious. There could only be one Jimmy.

Jimmy is not here now, but he is with me always. He died young but he was an old soul who had a gentle goodness about him. There was a certain zen there. He was capable of just being. He made me feel comfortable … and in the end, he comforted me.

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