Jay Hurley died last Saturday. A sad day for our town. A sad day for hundreds of his fans and friends.
We knew it was coming. It’s a small town. We were prepared. Or thought we were. You can prepare the mind, but you can’t prepare the heart.
The heart is defenseless.
Once upon a time, long ago, Jay left Shepherdstown without a penny in his pocket. He worked long and hard in distant lands and in 1979 returned with his pockets full.
He had a vision for what a dilapidated building on the edge of town might become. In that drab space he created poetry. He created a 19th-century oasis.
There, you left the tinseled world behind, you touched wood and iron, you sat around a potbelly stove and sipped coffee with Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Walt Whitman. There, something lost was found.
Last month I sat with Jay in his den above his store. He wore overalls, reposed on his recliner, and occasionally stroked his Gandalf beard while expounding on life and death, time and space, and pride in work done well.
Jay knew death was coming. He was ready. Unworried. Untroubled. Content. Happy.
I wouldn’t trade that hour for 10 hours with the Dalai Lama.
Just before I left, I told him (in case he didn’t know) that he was the heart and soul of Shepherdstown.
I didn’t know that.
Well, now you do, I said.
Then I thanked him for his friendship and for paying me a high compliment 40-some years ago.
What was that?
You came to my office in the Presbyterian church with a marriage license and asked if I’d marry you and your bride. I usually require six months notice, but for you, I made an exception. We had a little ceremony on the spot. You were in your overalls.
Ah, yes, now I remember.
Well, afterward you told me you admired me, but you said you weren’t a church person. You didn’t go to church. But for what it’s worth, you said, of the eight churches in town, mine would be the one you would choose not to attend.
I said that?
I don’t remember, but I must admit that’s a good line. I’m just not sure it was a compliment. But if you think so, I’m happy.
Jay is happy. And we can be happy too.
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