ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Is it possible to be both happy and sad at the same time? I think so. I’m pretty sure that’s where I am right now.
John Jesse was one of the first people I met when I moved to Reno. I stumbled upon the Pneumatic Diner for lunch maybe the third day I was in town. John, its owner, designer, builder, and curator was there that day, taking orders, serving, directing, entertaining. As our friendship grew, I would learn that John was not comfortable in many social situations. But the Diner -- as it was affectionately known -- was his domain. And he was fully animated within those walls.
Over time, John and I became friends. I bought my first road bike because of John. And when I wrecked it, he repaired it and turned it into a town bike for me. For several years I rode that town bike more than I drove my car. Because that is what John did. And he was an example of how I wanted to live. Small footprint. Quirky and creative. I thought his life was art. And I wanted mine to be, too. That town bike still hangs in my office. The office I rent in the building he bought and remodeled many years ago.
John built other things for me, too. Like the desk where I am writing this. The one where I wrote most of my second novel. The novel that is in boxes on a shelf in the work table he also built. And the truth is, he helped to build me into a better human. Our friendship transformed me.
I’ve been a tenant in this building he rebuilt twice now. The first time for a short while when I was living up at Lake Tahoe in 2001. The second time started in 2010, and I’m still here. John actually altered one of the spaces just for me, telling me he was doing it because, “I want you in this building.”
That started a new chapter in our lives. Being at the building gave me the chance to interact with John on a regular basis, sometimes daily. Eventually both our children started attending the same school, and so during morning drop-off and school events, there were more layers where our days and our lives were entangled.
At the building on Tahoe Street or in the parking lot at school, we would often find ourselves in unintentionally long conversations about life and how to live it. And our appreciation and respect for one another grew over time. John was human, like all of us, and so I don’t mean to paint him as a saint who never complained or had a bad day. But he was one of the most kind and thoughtful humans I’ve ever met. From bikes, to electric cars, to the evaporative cooling system in the building, to his tiny house, to recycling, to his minimized waste goals with the Diner, John surpassed everyone I knew with his life’s small footprint.
I’m not sure I can do this next story justice, but I really want to. Years ago my partner and I had a small, private unity ceremony in the woods. And then afterwards we had a larger celebration with our friends at Rancho San Rafael Park. John was there with his wife Kristin and their daughter Geneva, who was quite small at the time. The picture here is of John at the event, holding two stuffed animals. He appears to be talking to them. And they are hugging each other. I assumed at first glance he was performing for Geneva. And then I realized Geneva was actually on the other side of the table, off screen, where her mom is talking to her. That is John. Brilliant, thoughtful, kind, strong (enough to regularly climb Mount Rose Highway on his bike), creative, and able to hold what may have been an impromptu alternative dispute resolution with two stuffed animals in the middle of a crowd of people that culminated in the stuffies hugging each other.
In case you are wondering why I am telling you this, it is because John traveled peacefully over the rainbow bridge on July 8, 2020. About 10 days before that, John was in an accident while riding his bicycle in Washoe Valley. It seems he was knocked unconscious almost immediately, was taken to surgery and then to the ICU, and simply never woke up again.
It is perhaps impossible to write about the sudden finality of this kind of death without it coming out like a cliché. But the fact remains that for 25 years, since the week I moved to town, John Jesse has been a part of my life. It is difficult to imagine Reno without him. It is difficult to understand how it is that someone is here, a fixture in your life for so long, and then just not. And no matter how much you appreciated them when they were here, that appreciation does not really fill the gap left by their sudden absence.
John would never have wanted people to be sad at his passing. Any more than he would want people to stop riding their bikes because of his accident. He would want us all to be present with our lives as they are and to love all the things that are here.
You are missed, my friend. But more than that, I am grateful to have gotten to spend a good part of my time on earth with you.
Be well. Take care of yourselves. Reach out to each other often. Take the time for longer conversations, more books, things you want to learn. Take the time to find beauty. And to share it.
Encourage all your stuffies to put down their troubles and just hug one another.