Two weeks ago, our good friend Joedaniel (JD) Horne was found dead in a hotel room. It wasn’t a suicide and no foul play is suspected; he had been in poor health for a while, and a combination of factors finally overwhelmed him.
Joe forwarded me an email that had the subject “JD Horne died.” I thought it was a crazy coincidence that this guy who passed away had the same name as our friend JD — who, obviously, was not going to die any time soon. I read and re-read the details that spoke of the same person we knew, that would seem to confirm that this was indeed our friend, but I could not get my brain to process it. JD had enough life in him for 10 people. He was more energetic and charismatic than anyone I knew. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I thought he’d live forever.
JD was the one who started clown night, and it was exactly the kind of thing he would do. The rest of us boring people might suggest going out for a drink; JD was the kind of person to whom it seemed obvious that if you’re going to go out for a drink, might as well bring 40 of your closest friends, dress up like clowns, and rent a yellow school bus for transportation. He and his friends liked to play golf, so he organized a yearly golf tournament which took place in various locations throughout the country and involved dozens of people.
It always made me nervous when he and my equally intense husband got together, since I never knew what they were going to come up with. A couple of months ago Joe contacted him to say that our son was interested in doing a canoing trip, and he wanted to know if JD and his kids were interested. JD said he needed to think about it, then immediately replied saying he was in, and had a plan in which they’d make it a massive, days-long event and raise tens of thousands of dollars for his favorite cancer charity in the process. Joe called and asked me if I could pick them up if they did a practice run in the spring. I asked where I would need to go, and he gave me directions to a place on the river that’s a six-hour drive from our house.
JD was also a brilliant lawyer, and was for a time a partner at the top law firm in Austin. He was also a loving dad to his three young children. In the week leading up to his funeral, I experienced a pang of confused sorrow every time I looked at my calendar. There, on Saturday, it said JD funeral. So many times over the past decade there had been Saturday items on our calendars that began with JD: JD clown crawl, JD golf tournament, JD party (must dress as pirate to enter). Some sort of event bursting with life and interest and activity always followed the appearance of his name on my calendar. I could not process the juxtaposition of JD and funeral.
Then, as many of you probably know, Barbara Curtis died yesterday.
If you had asked me at the beginning of this month to list the top 10 people I know who are intense, crazy-in-a-good-way, unforgettable personalities, both Barbara and JD would be on the list.
Barbara, like JD, was a friend I looked up to for her fearlessness and for the fact that she was so unapologetically herself. She didn’t compromise her values to conform to the status quo — not when she was a radical in San Francisco, not when she made the “crazy” decision to adopt three children with Down syndrome when she already had nine biological children, not when she converted to Catholicism amidst no shortage of public criticism. She never made herself out to be a saint, and was as brutally honest with herself as she was with others. Yet, as she demonstrates beautifully in her powerful letter to her oldest child, she had an unfailing sense of hope, and a great trust in the power of God to bring good even out of our biggest mistakes.
Though I never met her in person, I considered her a friend. We would email fairly often, and our correspondence often started with her sending me a kind word of encouragement — often at the exact moment that I most needed to hear it. She was a mentor and a role model for me; I always wished I could have even a fraction of her unique brand of joyful courage.
At JD’s funeral, they ended the service by playing a tender song called Terry’s Song that Bruce Springsteen wrote for a dear friend of his who died. It was a hidden track on one of his albums, as if meant to be private and personal, not meant for wide distribution. I bought a copy as soon as I got home that day, and have listened to it about a hundred times ever since. I’ve been going on long walks and listening to that song over and over again, soaking in that mournful refrain, When they built you, brother, they broke the mold. Sometimes I weep openly, tears streaming down my face as I plod down the sidewalk, trying to comprehend it all.
And now when I hear this song, I think of Barbara as well. We knew she wasn’t going to make it when it was announced on Monday that she had a massive stroke, and I’ve been trying to prepare myself that yet another friend is no longer here; yet another person who seemed so strong and so full of life has, incomprehensibly, been taken from this earth. I look forward to seeing JD and Barbara again in another life, and it gives me an odd kind of comfort to think that these two people have paved the way for the rest of us.
Until we meet again, I’ll pray for them, and I hope they’re praying for me. And every time I hear Terry’s Song I will hold their images in my mind as I sing loudly and totally off-key, When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.
If you feel moved, here is a link where you can offer a financial donation to help Barbara’s family during this difficult time.