Thank God for you Jack.
I have reached that age where I cannot always tell the true from the false. I tend to think my younger years were kinder and gentler. But that is a lie. The world has always been a harsh place where one poor decision might spell disaster. Many of us escape a lot of bad decisions intact. We learn and we live. Mostly though, we remember what happened to us along the way.
I had always been an explorer. Always going somewhere, always trying new things, some good and some bad. I think in the beginning, I wasn't fully aware of all of the judgement and evil in the world until I experienced it in those explorations. These are the things we don't talk about. The things that impact us and change us for the better and sometimes for the worse.
I felt the sting of many bad decisions, some my fault, some not.
And during those explorations we call our lives, we have bastions or pillars of sanity we meet along the way. Guideposts. People who "get us" when most do not. Jack was one of the ones. One of the few.
Mrs. Webb in the 5th grade. Mr Winchell in the 11th. Doug D when I was 17. Jack S when I was 30. Jim A when I was 43. Des C when I was 47. My 2nd wife when I was 56. That's it.
The list of people who didn't "get me" is much longer. These are the people who judge us harshly. They can't believe we act the way we do. The proper way to act is a secret, discoverable only when you violate some script these judgers carry about in their heads. At their best, they keep their opinions to themselves. At their worst, they seek to actually damage us. The conflict is really about who they are- sometimes our mere presence is something they cannot tolerate.
I understood that at an early age. It took me a lot longer to accept it.
So when Jack S came to me by way of Mayoral edict, I was wary of him and he was wary of me. After a few months of long hours working together, I discovered that Jack was a tolerant, kind person with a large dose of patience. I think Jack discovered that I was a head strong but loyal person. I didn't quit until the job was over. I was always willing to fight for what I thought was right and it landed me in some trouble. Jack bailed me out a few times. I like to think I bailed him out a few times as well.
Many times in the eleven years we were together, I very often looked at Jack like he was a father of sorts. He was caring and tolerant. He was empathetic. He had all the skills he needed to deal with me. Skills my own father never had. Some call these people role models. I call them blessings, perhaps miracles.
For eleven years or so, Jack and I worked hard to make the universe right. We locked up murderers, pedophiles, thieves, and drunks. We suffered through refusals to prosecute, plea bargaining, chicken shit dismissals, and ridiculous sentences. We dodged a few scandals, attended meetings ad infinitum and then one day, Jack up and quit. He never really gave me the reason, but I suspected what it was. For me, the timing could not have been worse.
So it was, I had another seven years left on my sentence. When you take hard stands or tell people truths they don't want to hear, you don't last very long in the upper echelons of small-town politics. The very best chiefs and city administrators master the art of ass kissing. They survive long stretches, through some combination of convincing folks they are irreplaceable coupled with a large dose of ass smoochery. I have a different script in my head that they don't get. That I made it seven years after Jack, was a miracle all by itself.
I quit trying to make the universe right in 2007. By then Jack was out enjoying his life. I was certainly the better for having known him.
So, when I heard Jack had cancer a while back, we talked on the phone after all those years. Same nice guy I had always known, offering hope and encouragement for his future and mine. Some thirty years had gone by, and I still remembered his phone number.
Jack fell ill and died January 5. The new Chief gave me the news. I felt sick to my stomach. The truth is, it has taken me nearly two weeks to come to terms with it. I tried to write a note on his chapel obituary but for some strange reason, it wouldn't publish.
I loved Jack like a father. He was one of the good ones. I owe him a lot. Thank you for being such a decent, kind man. Jack Stoneback, 1941-2023.