Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My friend, Joe O'Rourke

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.

26 comments:

Spartacus said...

DJ - Sorry for your loss. Joe sounds like he was a cool guy to be around.

Utah Savage said...

Diva, that's a beautiful obituary. I'm sorry for your loss.

DCup said...

Oh, I am so sorry for this loss.

Bradda said...

Condolances...

Mary Ellen said...

Oh my....my prayers are certainly with Joe and those he left behind. I have a special place in my heart for priests who were drummed out of the church because they just couldn't abide by some of the anal rules that were written by men who are clueless to the real teaching of Jesus.

I believe somewhere in heaven (I do believe that's where he is) Joe is smiling at you and reassuring you that it's ok that you lost touch in person because you've certainly not lost touch with him in your heart.

Fran said...

Strange how a priest who does the compassionate thing got in trouble, while those who committed crimes (pedophiles) got sanctuary.

He sounds like a person who had a moral compass & followed it. A rarity these days.

Glad you have happy memories of times gone by.

Randal Graves said...

Sorry to hear about this. Sounds like he was a hell of an interesting guy to be around, and good people to boot.

an average patriot said...

He sounded like a beautiful person! I am sorry for your loss Diva!

DivaJood said...

Thanks, everyone. You know, I really adored Joe. He was as difficult to love as a person could be, unable to really do the things to take care of himself that healthy people do - and we'd all just love him anyway. I spoke to another friend a couple of hours ago - Joey'd been diagnosed with emphasema about six months ago, so what does he do? He started smoking again, after twelve years without a cigarette.

He was lovely, he was a mess, he was tragic, he was hilarious, he had the largest vocabulary of anyone I have ever known (bet you didn't expect me to say vocabulary), and I feel like a big piece of my heart has been ripped out.

okjimm said...

Gees, Jood, I am sorry. Last couple of years...I am missing a lotta folks I loved. Alla you can say is...hugs&stuff.

Mary Ellen said...

Diva- Take all the time you need to get over this, we'll be fine--you need time to grieve.

Like okjimm said, hugs&stuff, lots of hugs&stuff.

susan said...

Condolences from me too Diva.

Like okjimm and ME have said before me, hugs&stuff.

eProf2 said...

I'm sending positive thoughts your way today as you come to grips with the loss of a real friend.

Agi said...

Strange how a priest who does the compassionate thing got in trouble, while those who committed crimes (pedophiles) got sanctuary.

Well put, Fran. That's the institutional idiocy of the Catholic Church right there.

Liberality said...

Regret is hard to feel. Grief over someone's loss is even harder. I am sorry for your loss. Like Okjimm said: hugs&stuff.

Swinebread said...

Sounds like Joe was a real Christian... the compassionate kind with a sense of justice.

Border Explorer said...

I am so sorry. Thank you for honoring him by sharing him with all of us here.

Dianne said...

what a beautiful tribute to someone you clearly loved a lot.

it's real and heartfelt - but I've come to expect that from you.

Tom Harper said...

Sorry to hear about your friend. He sounds like a great person.

His thing with restaurants -- a group going to ten different restaurants and just ordering creme brulee at each one -- sounds like something Andy Kaufman used to do.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

What a beautifully touching obituary. The loss of such an awe inspiring friend is deeply felt, but what a fortunate time you spent knowing and loving him.

enigma4ever said...

that was beautiful...quite an eulogy for quite a man...and quite a friend...so sorry for your loss...
many hugs ....

DivaJood said...

You guys could not be kinder. Thank you all. Really, you have no idea how much you've bolstered my heart.

Raven said...

What a lovely tribute to a man who sounds like he was rather larger than life, one of those wonderful people who opens our minds and hearts with their enthusiasm for thinking and being. Those people never really die, I think. They become part of who we are.

D.K. Raed said...

Diva, I'm so sorry to hear about Joe. Those who are hardest to love are the most worth it, I think. They require something more of you. This was a lovely tribute. He lives in your heart as well as in history. I remember the DC9 & hope everyone who isn't familiar with that event will look into it; it is representative of a time when people took direct action against immoral war profiteers.

Dusty said...

Beautiful eulogy for a good man Diva.

Stella said...

diva, I thought I commented and didn't. Please forgive me and let me extend belated sadness for your loss. What a magnificent elegy for one who sounds like a brilliant, caring man.