I just got a bit of a shock. On a day that I randomly decided to wear a shirt from a gym where I used to work and where I had my massage practice back in the mid-nineties, I saw an obituary for one of the trainers, Joseph Raynor – aka Joe Joe to all of us – who worked there. He was also one of my massage clients, and a friend, at least during the time we worked together. What I remember most about Joe Joe was his deep smile and generally good-natured personality that made me think of a big snuggly teddy bear. He was a big guy – a former football player – and good ole country boy who had a light and sparkle in his eyes and who always looked like he was ready to laugh.
Joe Joe was a few weeks older than me but a lot less mature in a lot of ways. He had a baby-face (and despite his athleticism some baby-fat) and an almost ever-present smile on his face. Whenever we talked I always heard an innocence and sense of wonder or bewilderment about life and what it was all about.
In other ways, Joe Joe knew more about life than I did and perhaps more than I ever want to know. He was a world-class power lifter and competed in events all over the country. He was, at 25, already unhappily married with a child. And he knew what it was like to be arrested, go to jail and have a felony record. Though he was not involved with drugs when I knew him, he had gotten in trouble for helping people in the power-lifting community sell and/or buy steroids and was still on probation.
In the early days of our friendship, Joe Joe was very careful to stay away from potentially bad situations like going out to bars and really didn’t drink. He had a young son and family to take cre of and usually opted to be the responsible one. Later, as the group at the gym got bigger and a little more out of control, I heard a few stories about Joe Joe behaving badly and getting in a few bar fights. But not long after, he seemed to get a better sense of himself back, got some money together and bought the gym. I think we all hoped this would be a turning point for him and his life overall – and I think it was for a while.
But then, somehow, something propelled Joe Joe back into some of his past bad habits. I’m not sure exactly what went on in those days, but I heard stories of problems with the business; then of him getting into hard drugs – both using and selling; and later about him being in back in jail.
Judging from the obituary, I guess part or all of that may be true. It talked about how he’d become a Christian as an adult and had been involved in spreading his faith through prison ministries, AA, NA and another organization that I think is a rehab center. All in all though, it read like he had turned over a new leaf and was building a life with a woman he intended to marry and her son.
Though I haven’t seen Joe Joe in years…probably at least 16 or so…reading about his death really knocked the wind out of me. I immediately called another friend who knew him back then and perhaps better than I did. Though neither of us came out and said it I’m sure we were both thinking “What a damn shame.” I don’t know what killed him – it if was a slip back into drugs, driving drunk, or just his body giving out after the numerous and ongoing abuses it had taken. I guess it might have been none of those and instead something totally unrelated or random. But I doubt it. (Update…it was a heart attack at age 44).
Now, as I continue to observe my own habits, vices and behaviors, I feel odd that I was sipping the last of a glass of wine when I saw the news in the paper. No, I wasn’t drunk – not even close. But I have to admit that part of me feels like this yet is another “wake-up” call to pay attention to.
The question, perhaps, is what am I supposed to wake up to hearing or seeing? That I should live life totally sober? That I should recognize life is short and to enjoy all the moments? That I need to be careful about who I partner or associate with? Am I meant to remember that who I am is made up of all the actions I take each day and the lessons I’ve learned along the way? That who I am is not based solely on one or two habits I have – good or bad – but rather the total content of my character. Or that when all is said and done, what matters most is the love andpositive memories you’ve left behind.
I don’t know if I will go to the service for him today or not. It’s been so long and it seems in part like it would be odd for me to be there. Yet, another part says “Go honor the person you knew. Think about the sweet side of him you got to see and preserve that in your mind and that of the people who knew him so he can be healed back to being that man wherever he is now.”
Regardless, my memory of Joe Joe is of that sweet young man pictured above, with his beautiful smile and sunshiney personality. Wherever you are, Joe Joe, truly I hope you rest in peace. xo fb