12 Winters Blog

In memoriam: Jake

Posted in October 2010, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on October 31, 2010

Yesterday Jake McNamara would have turned 19, but, as many who read this blog will know, Jake was in a fatal auto accident July 29 at a dark, country-road intersection (where, since then, a four-way stop has been established). In recent days especially, many folks have been talking about Jake and posting new pictures on Facebook, attesting to the positive impact he had on so many in his too few eighteen years. I had the sad honor of speaking at his memorial service. Since so many of us are thinking of Jake on this Halloween weekend (I don’t know for certain, but I suspect he enjoyed Halloweens very much), I thought it might be appropriate to post the words that I read that day, as my main message was that we mustn’t be afraid to speak of Jake and to remember him fondly.

Jake McNamara, 1991-2010

I had the privilege of getting to know Jake in a couple of different contexts:  first, as a student in my speech and English classes; then, as a regular visitor to my home as he became friends with my sons Ethan and Spenser.  To his credit, Jake was Jake no matter what role he was playing.  In both my classroom and my home, Jake was well-mannered, friendly, active of mind, and happy to talk about books, movies and music.  Also, we regularly enjoyed conspiratorial moments as rabid supporters of Barack Obama, long before the bandwagon grew crowded.

Jake’s list of achievements speaks for itself so there’s no question that he was active and successful in school.  What I would like to emphasize though was Jake’s gift with language.  For his creative writing project, Jake shared with me the beginning of a movie script he’d written.  It was very Quentin Tarantino-esque but also very good.  It didn’t have to be a creative writing project per se because Jake’s inherent creativity was reflected to some degree in everything he did, and I have no doubt he would have made his mark in movies or music or in whatever area he focused his intellectual energies.

I must confess my own selfishness and say that as I got to know Jake better and better his senior year, I thought that perhaps the planets had aligned in a very special way that would allow me to achieve a long-standing goal.  For many years now I’ve wanted to see a robot in the cast of characters for Madrigals—a chunky, metallic, 1950s B-science-fiction-movie robot—right there on stage with the king and queen, lords and ladies, serving wenches, jesters, huntsman . . . robot.  And with nothing in the storyline to account for it.  It’s simply there, dancing and singing and wassailing (whatever that really is).  With Jake’s being a senior choir member and, then, king of the Madrigal performers, I talked to him about it on several occasions—and Jake got it, Jake understood.  But alas the inertial forces of tradition were too powerful and it wasn’t to be yet again.

Perhaps, though, Jake’s intellectual maturity was demonstrated most vividly in his genuine appreciation of the greatest film in the history of cinema, 2001:  A Space Odyssey—placing Jake in a special pantheon of my former students, that being students who didn’t make fun of Kubrick’s masterpiece.  With the addition of Jake, that pantheon now stands at . . . three.

In the spring Jake came to me for a recommendation for a poem to be read at the National Honor Society induction.  Being something of a one-trick pony, I suggested the same poem that I’d suggested on the two previous occasions over the years when a student had come to me about a poem for the induction ceremony.  The poem I recommended was “Ithaka” by the early twentieth-century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy.  In the five-stanza poem Cavafy crystallizes one of the central metaphors in Homer’s Odyssey.  Cavafy suggests that the treasure we seek in life is in fact the seeking itself; in other words, no matter how much or how little material wealth we acquire in life, the truest treasure lies in the experiences of living.

My poem recommendation is meant to inspire young people to be open to life’s possibilities as they set sail from their homeport of high school.  Unfortunately, in cases like Jake’s the poem amplifies the tragedy of youth struck down, for our sadness at Jake’s passing is due in large part to the sense that our Jake has been robbed of the opportunity to seek the treasure of life’s experiences.  I know my son Ethan in particular was very much looking forward to experiencing the treasures of going to college this fall with his friend Jake.

However, we should look elsewhere in the great poem that inspired Cavafy to write “Ithaka.”  Homer begins his long tale by invoking the collective memory, the communal memory—quite literally the “memory of the community”—because Odysseus’s journeys were already in the distant past when Homer began recounting them, and therefore Homer’s audience would have known the people and the places and the events already, or, more accurately, each audience member would have known something of them—so through the act of storytelling the poet and his audience, together, bring the people and places of the Odyssey to life.

We must do the same for Jake.  We must remember him well—that is to say, we must be good at remembering him.  And we mustn’t be afraid to speak of our friend for when we do, he is brought back to us again each time.  And Jake will once again make us smile, and laugh, and think—just as he would if he were still with us.

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