I lost a dear friend this past week, someone I have known for most of my life. If his sudden illness and death saddened me, and it did, deeply so, I know his sweet wife and two sons are experiencing his loss at a heartbreaking level.
My thoughts have not strayed far from James and his precious family. Memories have surfaced. I met him when I was a young teen in Noel, MO. He was married to Patti, the older sister of Shelley, one of my best friends. James and Greg grew up together. After Greg and I married, we would hang out with James and Patti. These familiar people became more than just Shelley’s relatives…they became my friends too.
While we lived in Noel, our lives were interconnected, as so often happens in small towns. James captured my family in portraits and he was the photographer at my wedding. He owned and operated the Ozark Theater in Noel, one of my favorite hangouts. I took care of Anthony, James and Patti’s first son, for a short time when he was two, before my own firstborn arrived.
James and I enjoyed discussing movies and literature and writing. We shared an appreciation for sci-fi and fantasy fiction. “I’ll write a book someday,” James always added.
Even after Greg and I moved to Joplin, we stayed in touch with the Carrolls. James and Patti’s family grew, with the arrival of their second son, Ryan. They trekked to Joplin or we stopped by to see them in Noel, not as often as we would have liked, but enough to keep the bonds of friendship strong.
James became a mail carrier and later mayor of Noel. Always one to give of himself to his community, he continually sought ways to improve his town and help people live better lives.
At his memorial service this morning, I heard words such as “wonderful”, “thoughtful” and “courteous” used to describe James. And those words were certainly true about this kind hearted man. I never saw James without a smile brightening his face. He had a great sense of humor. He was gracious with a gentle soul. And, he had this spark that lit up his eyes.
I just this week realized what that ever present spark signified. It was the fire of creativity shining out through his eyes. That word was strongly connected to James this morning and I wholeheartedly agree. James lived a wonderfully creative life.
From his photography days to drawing and painting to performing plays to building forts for his sons, James expressed his artistic side through a variety of mediums. This talented man fearlessly explored his creativity and had fun playing with it.
And that book he intended to write? He did it. Several years ago I was both honored and excited when he presented me with a copy of SARREN. Full of magic and adventures, love and battles, SARREN is an epic fantasy novel with a strong heroine as the central character.
I’ve been slowly re-reading James’ book this week and I am enchanted by the story once again. And beyond that, I am connecting with my friend and knowing him at a deeper level as I discover more about James through his beautiful writing.
I hold in my hands James’ creativity, birthed into reality through his writing. I am inspired by him to make manifest my own creative ideas. I see, too, that the Alan Rickman quote I so love, “If only life could be a little more tender, and art a little more robust” was lived out in James’ life. He cared for people and put actions with his desire to create a better world. And he offered his creative gifts to the world as well. His contributions are timeless, and far reaching. His life will continue to impact and touch others, in ever expanding ripples.
He has impacted me. His book SARREN will rest on my writing desk, in my studio, a visual reminder of what is possible, of what a creative life can bring forth. As I move into a new year, with a focus on making life a little more tender and art a little more robust, I will draw inspiration from my friend James.
Saying thank you seems so inadequate. However, I am so very grateful, James, for your life…and your art.