A Life of Service

By Glenda | May 14, 2009

Jim Lemon wasn’t the very first person I met when I moved to Texas twenty-five years ago. But he was the first person I met about whom I thought “Now here is someone I can talk with about things that really matter!” And, off and on, we’ve been talking ever since.

But it hasn’t been just talk. Jim is all about doing, not just talking about doing. I’ve never met anyone (and I mean anyone) who is more engaged in actual activities of service to others than Jim Lemon. Through the years, I’ve seen him volunteer with countless organizations—hospice, Viet Nam Vets, Special Olympics, environmental groups, and on and on and on. He went to Virginia (I think it was) for months to volunteer to help Elizabeth Kubler Ross set up her center there where she was working early on with HIV-Aids patients. His work as an advocate for the disabled has taken him into all sorts of volunteer projects. And his willingness to show up to help any individual when a need arises is legendary.

I think of all this today as I move about in my new vegetable garden, picking the first summer squash and the delicious green peas, watering the tomatoes and cucumbers and beans. I couldn’t have this garden here if Jim hadn’t organized folks to put up a fence to keep the deer out. And, of course, he showed up with his tiller to get the grass out and the ground ready for planting.

He shows up regularly at Earthsprings Retreat Center and at Fellowship of Comparative Religion activities, and has for all the years I’ve been in Texas. Not only does he show up for the activities I plan, but he helps in all the countless ways required to keep the place and the activities going. “This place matters,” he says, and so he gives of his time and efforts freely to see that it keeps going. Most of the structures on the land have felt his hammer in their construction and, now, in their maintenance.

Jim introduced me to a great number of the people in my life who have been important to me. He’s a connector, an encourager, an avid supporter of people who want to “do their own thing” if he thinks it’s authentic and worthwhile. I remember his wedding vows to his wonderful wife Kerry, vows that said something like “I’ll support you in all your adventures.”

Life is an adventure for him, and he makes it so. Whether it’s white-water canoeing, backpacking in the wilderness, exploring another spiritual discipline, or daring to encourage the women in his life to be more liberated, Jim is “out there,” not necessarily as a leader of the team, but as the one who actually makes it all happen.

I’ve watched Jim, too, as he’s moved through the activities of his own personal life, opening his home to two teenaged boys in trouble, raising his own two amazing children, creating an off-the-grid home that is haven for anyone who wants to come to visit.

Of course, now, let it be said that Jim is no saint, as he is quick to tell you. In fact, he revels in memories of his “Dennis the Menace” childhood and his rebellious and adventurous youth. And he is such an irreverent tease that one would be tempted to think that for him, nothing is sacred, except that, in truth, for him everything is sacred and so anything can be held up to the light of laughter. It’s just that his coyote-medicine tell-it-like-it-is (or at least how it looks to Jim at that moment) is a natural eruption of his life-long delight at life’s ironies.

He points out freely one irony in his own life. He says that, for years, he must have unconsciously thought he could “beat the system” by volunteering to help others, so that, maybe, he wouldn’t have to have their problems himself. But life’s irony caught up with him.

Jim has been surviving leukemia for five years now. This next week he goes back for a bone marrow test to see how he’s doing. He gets a little more introspective than usual in the days before those visits to MD Anderson. We talk about “what it’s all about” and “making every moment count.” When he leaves, I say fervent prayers of gratitude for him and for his life of service.

Jim was adopted as an infant. He’s never been able to locate his biological parents. That surely has informed who he is, There’s always a strain of sadness that runs deep, deep inside him, a sadness that never really allows Jim to forget that life is a mystery, that a “family of choice” is a real family, that love comes from places that are not the usual obligatory places, and that everyone is an orphan on some level.

We all need affirmation. We all need the kind of acceptance and opportunity to be our best selves that Jim offers, for example, to the Mental Health-Mental Retardation clients he works with every day. And Jim’s own experience helps him to understand just how important all that can be.

Jim was adopted by good people, who must have somehow instilled in him the kind of sense of self that has allowed Jim, through the years, not only to be a survivor, but a lover of life and of humanity. So, adopted as he was, he apparently decided to adopt the rest of the world as his family of choice, and to serve them all as though any one of them could be his unknown biological mother or father. It is an amazing thing to be Jim’s friend, and an honor.

I just wanted to say all that. There’s no reason for doing so, other than that my heart tells me that we too often neglect to say the “good stuff” about people we encounter, people who make our own lives richer. I haven’t told Jim I was going to write this, either, and no doubt he’ll have a few irreverent things to say about what I’ve written. It’ll be fun to hear. I can’t wait.

5 comments | Add One

  1. Don Ehat - 05/14/2009 at 10:33 am

    Glenda, your peon to Jim brought back so many personal experiences with him that underlined all that you said. White water canoe trips,Big Bend, drum circles, Tree rapelling, Swamp walks,personal vignettes about his gifts of time to others. My life has been blessed by Jim’s Life

  2. vicky benoit - 05/14/2009 at 11:50 am

    I love you, too, Jim…I just had no idea all of the reasons why!!!!! Glenda has articulated a piece of your vast spirit very well….vic

  3. Steve Nash - 05/14/2009 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you, Glenda, for the words so beautifully written about a remarkable human being, Jim Lemon. I hope to be with Jim this next week and know there will be laughter, adventure, soul sharing and most of all, love and the gift of being together.

  4. Denbie Nash - 05/14/2009 at 7:27 pm

    My first thought after reading your “essay” on Jim was a huge unequivocal resounding

  5. Janet Lee (Dorsett) - 10/28/2009 at 7:32 pm

    I knew Jim, we called him “Jimbo” back in 1978-1982. Jim was a social worker at a girls home in Laneville and I am sure, I was his biggest problem child. I can say with his help and guidance, I am a succesful adult. I was at that crossroad when the state of texas sent me to the girls home and jim taught and showed me the right road to take. Everything you said is the same Jim then. I have been trying to locate him and found this article. I hope to reconnect with him, and show him what a positive impact he has had on me and I did turn out just fine…

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