A good man passed this week; someone I knew when I was much younger. Whenever this happens, I find myself stuck in some sort of quantum dislocation. In my mind, that person is still young and stays so till I observe differently. This last month, I’ve found myself considering the loss of three fifty/sixty-somethings who still populate my memory as twenty-somethings.
I've not seen Jimmy in decades. My memories of him, like many other camp folk, stem from back in The Dreamtime. (The sixties and seventies) This was a time in our lives of chaos and possibilities. (And hormones; lots of hormones) The universe was young. Stuff apparently happened before us but couldn't have been that important. The summers were warm and endless and we meandered through them obliviously.
It was a time of formation for us. We look back on those days, much like the constantly repeated stories of our parents' childhoods, as a sort of mythology that has guided our lives. (eg. The Legend of Dennycles and the Bottle of Cheap Wine; wherein our hero learns a valuable lesson about unsympathetic friends who will put ice cubes down your pants when you're helpless to fight back.) We learned things but not well or readily and much of what we learned was useless if not downright dangerous.
Like any garden variety universe, we start out with chaos; particles and potential whirling about with no particular direction or form. That would be our teens… Then, suddenly, order starts to impose itself.
You know what order in such a system consists of? Small influences over time. A minor nudge to a careening asteroid, over time, can alter its course by millions of miles. Small influences…
MD camp was an example of the multiplication effect of those small influences. Back in The Dreamtime, there was a concentration of remarkable people; the very type needed to populate a new mythology. Why, there were giants in those days, folks! (Granted they were all oddly dressed teenagers with unusual haircuts and varying levels of no-clue-at-all but this is my mythos and I'll populate it as I like!) People such as I'd never met in my life up to that point. Everyone has individuals at camp who had some particularly telling effect on them. To me, for instance, one was Ricky Balsamo. Here was a guy my own age who startled and amazed me. Imagine! To be responsible and organized of one's own volition! Hell, I didn't realize, at the time, that was even an option. (My stable of peer group role models up till then was, unfortunately, a rather sad and mangy lot.) I would observe Ricky wielding that clipboard like a dog watching a human use a can opener, "Hey, he's performing actions in the present to affect conditions in the future! Wow! I wanna be like that… But with a nicer hat!"
There are always people like that at camp. I remember Jimmy, his lovely sister Marian and more in those early years. People like this give you a glimpse of what they are; what you could also be if you just suck up your nerve and open out. These people have an amazing effect on a life's trajectory. Some have more effect on more people; people like Jimmy. Small influences over time tend to build and amplify. They're shared and grown, transferred and bequeathed. Ah, then order and direction develops! Friendships, influences and lessons learned create pathways and orbits in our lives. (I keep working this metaphor and I know it's getting old but stay with me…) Those small influences have developed into our careers, our friends, even, for many of us, our spouses. Worlds and lives were created by the influences we experienced then. I find it wonderful to see that those original influences continue to form order as camp folk have married, had children who became camp folk, married each other and had even more tiny, little camp folk. It's a marvelous thing to look back nearly 44 years (I know; that doesn't sound particularly old to be called "The Dreamtime" but I'm the one telling the story, dammit…) and to see the paths so many friends' lives have taken that can greatly be attributed to people like Jimmy.
As I said, I've not seen him in years. I didn't even know what path his life took, or what all he did with it. I think it's telling, though, that I just assumed he continued to be that force; touching lives, building spirits. That's what people like him do. Reading some of the postings from his friends and students over the last couple days, that appears to have been a safe assumption.
Small influences over time…
Eventually, you end up with… this.
Look at the worlds you created, Jimmy Liptak…
God bless and godspeed.