Jim Morris finally died. We laid him to rest last weekend. Five years of cancer, and several strokes had winnowed his athletic frame and a good portion of his sharp wit. If you met him in his prime, you wouldn’t soon forget him. A handsome Notre Dame Hall of Fame athlete, he stood about six foot three, the least imposing mountain of a man you could ever meet. He was a living parable of what is possible when someone acts like love really is the most transformative power on Earth.
He loved to sing. It was not uncommon for a vocal flash mob to break out around him at any given campfire, kitchen sink, or road trip. Just before the pandemic, an eight-two year-old Jim told me, that over the years, he had committed a whopping 800 songs to memory. I have no idea what all of those songs were, but I know one of them for sure. At any given songfest someone was going to beg him to perform it. He would always insist that it had to be the ending… like the reprise of a play… or the grand finale of the fireworks. The song? “The Impossible Dream,” (written by Rich Leigh, 1965).
That tune was from his favorite play, “The Man of La Mancha,” whose leading lady was a careworn woman weighed down by every manner of indignity. The burdensome nature of her life was reflected in the name the town’s people gave her: “El Donza,” (i.e. the donkey). Indeed, they all treated her as if she were a beast. Over time, she began to see herself and call herself by that name. When the main character, Don Quixote, came to town, he did not mistake her for a beast of burden. He comprehended something beautiful, something sweet, something delightful in her. In the mirror of his gaze, she began to break through the hypnotism of abuse, to see herself more clearly. In the context of that relationship, she came to know herself by a new name, “Dulcinea.”
When I met Jim in my late teens, I was El Donza, burdened by so many things. Some of those burdens were placed upon my back by people whom you would expect to know better. Most of my burdens were of my own making. During that time when my family was disintegrating, I snagged up my life in almost every way an adolescent could snag a life up.
I met Jim through a prayer group he formed for teens. Besides teaching me how to pray in a way that a Benedictine Monk or Sister would recognize as an ancient form of Lectio Divina, he gradually welcomed me into various circles of his peers and family. He mentored me explicitly, and inexplicitly by example. But more than anything else. Jim just loved me. Like his role model, Don Quixote, it was as if he were a six-foot-three mirror where I could catch a glimpse of myself. In those days, when I looked into mirrors, I would see El Donza… a dumb… ass looking back at me. In the mirror Jim provided, my reflection was framed in a new way. That frame contained bone-crushing hugs, humor, playfulness, athleticism, spirituality, a willingness to stay up into the night discussing whatever a ragtag group of adolescents felt like discussing. More than anything else, I remember those gentle, delighted eyes. In the gaze of that man who dreamed his impossible dreams, I came to believe I could have a dream of my own to pursue. In that gaze, I came to believe I was a delight…Dulcinea.
Jim has finally reached his unreachable star. Like the twentieth century powerhouse, Dorothy Day, saccharine remembrances of him would be the last thing he would want to memorialize him. I think a better way to hold his memory sacred would be to allow his example to interrogate my life with an important question. “What must a person do to pursue the impossible dream that Love alone endures, that Love is still the single most potent force for change on earth, and that the intentional and courageous practice of Love still has the power to transform this tattered, and torn world?”