This week also marks the two-year anniversary of Jamie Bishop's death. It's been creeping up on me for a few weeks, and I could see it coming if I turned my head and looked out the corner of my eye, but then it rushed up on me all of a sudden earlier this week. I've been feeling depressed these last couple of weeks, and I'm sure that this is a big reason why.
It sometimes feels masochistic, re-opening this wound every year and displaying it publicly for all the internets to see. Why do I keep wallowing in this pain? Is it because I've gotten on with my life and feel bad that I don't think about Jamie more often? Or is that I'm trying to find a way to stay connected to him and his memory? I don't know. Maybe both.
One thing I've been thinking a lot about this past week is something that I omitted from my account of the Blackburg visit in January 2007. The last night that Janet and I were there, Jamie made homemade pizzas for dinner; completely homemade, down to the dough itself. It was delicious pizza (I don't remember if it was vegetarian, but there were lots of veggies), perfectly cooked. As we ate at Jamie and Steffi's dining table, we chatted about different things. At some point, Jamie mentioned the TV series Friday Night Lights, which he'd been enjoying.
"Oh, I've see the commercials for that one," I said. "It's the one about the high school football team in a small Midwest town, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. The football is certainly important, but it's more about small town politics and the relationship the coach has with his wife and the players."
"See," I said, "that would probably just get me mad, having to watch conflicts because of small-minded conservative politics."
"Well, it is maddening sometimes," Jamie said, "but it's also very well written. You might like it."
"I don't know, man. I mean, aren't these movies and series all the same after a while? The sports team that fights against obstacles and complications and in the end triumphs over adversity? Isn't this all a bit cliche by now?"
Jamie frowned and I had the feeling I'd gone too far. "Maybe, but cliche is everywhere. Even in science fiction."
I was about to counter with all of the original sf stories and films that I could think of, but I sensed that this was a pivotal moment in our friendship. I could defend my position, and then he could defend his, and then we could get in a big fight about it, ruining the rest of the night, and possibly the rest of the trip. Or I could just let it go. I had hurt him with my comments, that much was clear; he had been trying to share something that he clearly liked and wanted to recommend to a good friend, and I had thrown it back in his face. I'd been arrogant and dismissive and not a nice friend in that moment.
So I dropped it. Instead of being a major incident, it was just a minor blip in an otherwise lovely weekend. We talked some more, finished up the pizza, and then put on a movie. The next morning we all hung out and saw a bit more of Blacksburg, and then Janet and I headed back to Raleigh in the early afternoon. The rest of the visit had been pleasant as always, and it seemed that any blunders made the night before had been forgiven. Which was certainly a good thing, especially in light of what happened just a few months later.
But still, I keep thinking, why was I so quick to slag off this show that I hadn't even seen? Why had I been compelled to be so closed-minded and slap down my friend's suggestion? Why couldn't I have just kept my trap shut and actually listened to what he had to say, and give it a decent chance?
In hindsight, it was certainly a misstep on my part, but Jamie was quick to put it behind us and not hold it against me. He was the bigger man that night, and this realization has caused me to be more patient my interactions, to be more open-minded, especially when friends or acquaintances recommend something to me. It is one of the many things that Jamie did that has helped me to be a better person, and it makes me all the more grateful that I was lucky enough to be his friend for the short time that I knew him.
P.S. The image above is "Thanatopsis" by Jamie Bishop. It's one of my favorite pieces that he did, and I always thought it would make an amazing book cover.
P.P.S. The following note comes from Lisa Koedding:
BLACKSBURG, Va., April 9, 2009 "Jamie Bishop: A Retrospective," an exhibition of graphic designs and photographs by Jamie Bishop, the Virginia Tech German instructor who died on April 16, 2007 in Norris Hall, will be on display in Blacksburg starting April 15 through July 14.
The display will be shown at VTLS, Inc. headquarters, located on 1701 Kraft Drive in Blacksburg. Viewing hours to the general public are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The works on display include sketches by Bishop from the early 1990s and his last photo cycle, South Main Series, made the year he died. Also on display are several graphic designs created by Bishop. Before his death, he had been accepted into the art program at Virginia Tech and planned to take his first classes in summer 2007.
Bishop planned to earn an MFA and to pursue a career in graphic design.