Just got a call from my brother with news I didn't want to hear. Joe O'Rourke died. Joe was an ex-Jesuit, drummed out of the priesthood in 1974 after baptizing a baby whose mother believed in planned parenthood and a woman's right to choose. Joe was part of the DC 9, who broke into Dow Chemical's Washington DC office and destroyed files in 1969. Dow was the main manufacturer of Napalm, and this was during the Viet Nam War. It's funny how the Church supported Joe and his fellow protesters over Viet Nam, but not for a baptism.
But this is what I remember: I met Joe in about 1991, and we became friends because Joe befriended everyone. He was big - not so much physically big, although he was tall - but I mean his personality took up space. He was loud. He loved to listen, and to challenge ideas, and he loved smart women. He was messy, and passionate, and funny, and when he spoke, his language was so circular that people got confused and could not follow him to his point - which he always made, eventually, after tangent, after tangent, after tangent. For reasons I don't understand, I could follow him. I enjoyed his enjoyment of life.
We used to go to dinner a lot, and would cover all kinds of topics - especially Judaism as I understood it, and Catholocism and catholocism - and AA, and doing well by doing good, and the spiritual principle that "you go first" making amends always, always, always. He adored his son. He adored his wife, who became his ex-wife - I can't imagine living with Joe for more than a minute, it would drive a person crazy, I am sure. He was an amazing cook. He would gather groups together to hit ten restaurants in Chicago on a given night to only have creme brulee at each. He spilled food everywhere. He made me laugh. He made me think. He was a friend.
Not everyone loved him. He could charm the birds out of the trees, he had that Irish gift of gab but his follow-through was, well, a mess. He constantly disappointed people, and he knew it. I told him once that my idea of hell was the two of us, drunk, locked in a room together. He twinkled, and said "We'd have about 30 seconds of a great time, first, though." His soul was kind, and he tried, he really did. But people left him, fell away from him, that was the fact of his life.
In April of 2004, he had a series of massive heart attacks, and he was never the same after that. He nearly died at that time - in fact, he was revived several times - and when I saw him a few times after I moved out to Los Angeles, I was shocked at how this once vibrant personality had become so diminished. He became old, frail, and slow. His voice became weak. It was painful to see. And in my last trip home, I never made the time to see him. I last spoke to him by phone about nine months ago. I'd moved away, like everyone else, and then today my brother called with the news. The funeral was apparently yesterday. My brother just found out about it today. Last week, I found myself thinking about him a lot - and yesterday, I asked FranIAm if she knew Joe - he was originally from Hudson, New York - she did not. Part of me thought he'd always be around, and part of me knew he was gone. He was gone long before he died, I fear.
Joe, I will miss you for a long, long time.