John Ramsey Miller
Today I write with a hole in my heart, and tears clouding my eyes. I am stunned and I am angry. I am sitting here, watching (out the window) two of my grandchildren who are playing in a pool my wife bought at Walmart for five dollars, but I am reflecting on my dear friend for many years, Jay McSorley. He died this morning and I still disbelieve, feeling I am being conned and that he is all right over there in Iceland, so close to where his family started. The older you get the more you lose, and the more it matters.
Jay lived in all over the United States and all over the world. He was at home in any country, with any men and women who spoke any language. He had the gift of bowling bowling people over with stories of his life. Tragedy and comedy are related, and he made had them always in the same bed.
Years back, when he was in Ireland, he sought out his family’s roots in the village he understood they had come from. He went to the Catholic Church to look through the records to find his kinsmen. The priest told Jay he was no more Irish that than the Pope because McSorley was the name the Irish gave to those children descended from the rapes of the pillaging Vikings. My God, he was a Viking. Vikings lived on the edge, with their faces in the saltwater wind as they lurched forth to conquer and pillage, never imagining they could find their way back home.
Jay died once before, in Kansas City, Kansas, but he returned that time, got the bypass deal, and we laughed about it. He told me while there might not be a God, there’s something out there waiting for us all. He saw it clearly. An adventure. A perfect equation to join. I believed him. I believed everything he ever told me. He never lied to me.
He could hold any gathering in the palm of his hand. With equal ease and enjoyment, he read advanced math books, poetry, and novels about ner-do-wells. He didn’t just live, he exploded life, and he understood more than just about anybody what makes people and things tick. And he lived every day as Jay McSorley, never making concessions to threat or promise.
His heart was one in a long line of the McSorley hearts that betrayed its owner by going weak in a natural stronghold. A heart so expansive goes at full steam and can’t go on forever. He wasn’t afraid of death, only of being pitied, or becoming frail. He was afraid of subsisting on soft food. He was steak and potatoes, and never tasted sprouts. His father died young of the same betrayal of heart. Jay told me over-and-over that he had no regrets. He had married the perfect woman for him, as she had the perfect man for her. His children were a source of pride and amazement, and he had a grandchild on its way in that he will never hold, and every child wanted to be held in those strong hands, and kissed, and warmed in his smile. Together he and his mate, Lisa, were a unit of the full measure of love and devotion.
As a writer he eclipsed and shamed me and damned near any writer you can name. A natural, he was. Nobody could describe with his flair, or see into and communicate human emotion like he could. He could make you laugh and cry at the same time. He got “it” and he had a gift for sharing it, but he didn’t desire to become famous, or join in any chase that was not of his design. Had he published and become a best-selling author, he would not have been impressed with praise, or accepted accolades without laughing at the absurdity of being praised. Doing was his reward, writing entertained him. I fought to get him to let me shop his manuscripts, but he would not. He wrote for himself and for his wife and sometimes a friend, but not for profit or notoriety.
McSorley listened more than he spoke, but when he spoke there was laughter following along, an accent to his baritone and sense of humor. He grew beards in a matter of hours, and shaving took a long hot shower to accomplish. He was a Viking, after all. When he passed he was working on a short story that would certainly have been published and he was excited about it. He was the greatest writer you may never read. Someday I hope to get my hands on the words he crafted, and share them. If it is possible, I will do that and he will be a name remembered, long after I am vanished.
He was my friend. He was my brother. I loved him deeply. I will miss him as long I live. And I will miss what he could have been, should have been, even beyond what he was, which was more than most of us can hope to be. He would have been a character in one of my books, but I lack the talent to bring him to life on a page. Good-by my dear and gentle friend.