Usually I write this column with a certain amount of emotional distance, an observer witnessing the emotions of my subjects, perhaps adding an empathetic ear or thought or two. But not as a full participant.
Today, I have no emotional distance. This is hard.
In 2015, a week before starting at the Derrick and News-Herald, I came down to hang out and follow around my predecessor Jerry Sowden in order to learn a little of the lay of the land. His assignment that day was trout stocking – something he and I had covered every year for many years at our respective papers. The writer he was working with that day was a young reporter with a lot of energy and an almost unending interest in his subjects and the act of stocking fish.
That reporter was Jacob Griffin who I would end up working with for around a year at the paper.
Yesterday, from a post on Facebook, I learned he had died.
I barely knew Jacob, really. We worked together on only a couple dozen stories or more. He was deep thinker and loved experience. The picture of him I have here is when he wrote a first hand account of participating in the Parker Polar Plunge on Jan. 1, 2016.
I remember him coming out of the water, he wasn’t pleased that he agreed to it. “That was too (expletive) cold,” he said. I knew it wasn’t a particularly good time for him personally, but remembered thinking before he plunged that he would come out with some deep metaphysical understanding for why people took this plunge and have for years all over the world.
But “That was too (expletive) cold,” was all he had. I told him I thought he’d have some reference to some great philosophy and he just sort of stared at me with his iced red face as if to say “(expletive) you Rich.”
I guess the paper wouldn’t have allowed him to write “too (expletive) cold” anyway.
I’m sad that he won’t be around any longer.
He came in to my office one day laughing about a bumper sticker I had on my car. At first, I thought it was the fact that he was surprised I had a photo business and did senior portraits and weddings, etc. No, he was busting my chops because it was crooked. “Who does that?” he said.
I purposely went outside to look at his bumper in hopes I could get something to bust him back but there it was, perfectly straight, almost as if he took out a carpenter’s square to put it on. The bumper sticker read something like ‘I miss Reagan,’ which surprised me because of the political conversations we had had before. But, I figured I had ammo to go back at him. I began working my way up to kidding him about it when he stopped me after only a few words with a belly roll laugh out loud. He said he thought that would be “hilarious” to put that on his car.
We had many small encounters like this. We talked about photography a lot and how to better approach story telling images. We talked about how opinion works and is formed. We talked a lot about a lot and his interest and knowledge was vast. I was sad when he left the paper.
I’m sadder today.
Below was what I woke up to today on facebook. I describes the man I barely knew perfectly I think.
“These are grey days for the Timothy Griffin Clan. Yesterday we learned that Jacob had passed during the night in his apartment in Philadelphia. We don’t have allot of details yet but all we really know is that we are fractured by the news. Jake was an intensely deep, sensitive and hilarious. Intellectually he had a very fast chip neurologically, he could build a computer or almost anything while listening to a myriad of scientific podcasts actively holding an engaging discussion on the perspectives of Gerta. Few people if any that I have met brought more to the table on so many levels. I’m not saying he was perfect but I am saying he was a force of nature. I think he would appreciate that description. I suppose I would say he was very diverse in his depth of knowledge and that diversity of tools was at a highly evolved level. I think that was the unusual thing about him. He not only knew allot about allot but he knew it at a deep level. I guess you would have to have known him to understand. We spent allot of time together these past couple of years as we worked together on some projects. He had an artist eye with an inventor’s ability to process design. A ravenous reader, writer with a passion for Science and technology he was most at home perusing these endeavors. He was also a dutiful son who will be painfully missed.” – Timothy Griffin, Jacob’s dad, on Facebook 8-22-17
In his obituary that appears in today’s paper is another perfect description that shows the depths of this young man who was only 31.
“Master tinkerer, wood bender, outdoorsman, computer nerd, scrabble king, garage scientist, carpenter, journalist, mechanic, information explorer, quasi-physicist, brother, son, grandson, nephew, uncle and cousin is creating and inventing up in the big blue sky above us.
He was handsome and had a style that usually involved a combination of white T-shirts, paint splattered jeans and a grisly beard-covered smile. He rocked that look like no one else. His smile was always his glow and his glow reached everyone in the room. If you knew Jake, you saw he was an intellectual, shattering opinions with facts that were smart, often too complex to refute. He regularly talked about subjects ranging from the intricacies of space travel to the perfect way to make scrambled eggs: light heat, don’t quit stirring. He had hands that owned an ability to create something beautiful and sturdy from nothing. Albeit not conventional, it was always functional like him.
He was truly a creator, and an avid reader, writer and technology enthusiast. His passions were the world’s many ideas, wonders and people in it.”