Saturday, memorial service for Jimmy, the young son of old friend of ours. Jimmy, born Australia in 1987, brought up on a farm near us in Yorkshire, died aged 26 when the wing of his Tiger Moth broke off in the air over the Gold Coast near Brisbane, Australia.
In between those two events, Jimmy lived life to the max. He was a fearless adventurer, the ultimate can-do person. His favourite phrase was ‘its doable’. And listening to the eulogies on Saturday I found some of my fundamental tenants about life and money both challenged and reinforced I thought I might, this morning, reflect on that.
First, a bit a bout Jimmy. He was a true traveller and adventurer. As one speaker said, he packed more into his 26 years than most of us would in a full life time. His travels took him to every continent. One minute he was hanging out with the Massai in Kenya, next he was herding cattle in the Australian outback, he in a plane, his schoolfriend, travelling companion and for just over a year his wife Alice on a horse. Or he was was driving a horse box from England to Libya to deliver a couple of racehorses, extract the not inconsiderable payment for the horses from their new owner and bring it back (in cash), something he achieved of course.
Or he was running with the bulls in Pamplona or sampling the delicacies of snake meat in China or hitching around New Zealand or South Africa, or exploring Egypt with his mother.
Aeroplanes were his joy, whether he was flying them or jumping out of them, and from his diaries it appears that for he and his mates health and safety didn’t come at the top of their priorities.
Given his zest for life and complete disregard for his own safety, its probably not surprising that he didn’t reach his four score years and ten, and to that end his memorial service on Saturday was a celebration of his life, although desperately sad for the large numbers of family and friends who were there.
I see real comparisons with Patrick Leigh Fermor in particular and Laurie Lee too, possibly. Lee if you recall, after sampling the delights of Cider with Rosie in the hay field, spurned a life of agriculture in the Coxwolds and simply walked out one midsummer morning.
Paddy too felt constrained by convention and not knowing what to do with his life set off in 1933 at age 18 to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, and he stayed in eastern Europe until 1939, a short summary which nodes a multitude of reckless adventures.
I think Paddy and Jimmy had much in common. Both were described as reckless, selfish and inconsiderate. Jimmy was certainly a constant worry to his parents, a worry that was ultimately justified, whilst PLF was a worry to his friends and his publisher, John Murray, in particular. Sometimes their actions were quite hurtful to others. Neither had much use for money. Money certainly didn’t stick to them and in fact much of their adventurous life was funded, willingly or unwillingly, by others. Although Jimmy certainly did work for a living much of the time and funded himself on a day to day basis
For Jimmy, planes were freedom. And similarly, as Artemis Cooper comments in her biography of Paddy LF, the arrival of commercial air travel after the war provided Paddy with the freedom to travel
So, why the challenge. Well I have two fundamental tenants when it comes to helping people plan their lives and finances. One is boundaries. I maintain that we need to set boundaries and that we can achieve freedom within those boundaries. Hence the need to set spending plans (a form of boundary) and live life to the full within those boundaries; and I have many examples of people who live like this with great happiness. But for both Jimmy and PLF, boundaries were an anathema. However, they both managed to live extraordinary lives.
Another tenet concerns balancing the short and long term, trying to achieve profound life goals in the short term whilst being responsible for the longer term, principally through retaining a little of everything we earn and saving and investing it. This was certainly not on the agenda fro either Paddy or Jimmy. and for Jimmy we will of course never know what the outcome might have been for him all those years down the line.
So you can probably see why both Jimmy and PLF, who both lived deeply rich lives totally in the moment whilst abhorring both boundaries and long term responsibility challenge my beliefs. Having said that, both Jimmy and PLF led lives that are probably far too rich and possibly far to self-centred for many of us and for these people, boundaries and responsibility are tenets that work, and work well.
Finally, though, I think both PLF and Jimmy reinforce another key tenet, that of letting go. Both had very little, whether in the form of money or possessions. They lived lives unencumbered by the weight of property and possessions that prove a hinderance to so many of us. They transformed their own lives; in fact their lives were possibly a constant transformation, and they understood that to do this they had to let go.
So Jimmy in his short life has, I think, much to teach us, as does PLF and I would recommend Artimis Coopers book, and hope one day Alice might write about Jimmy. For reading books like these are transformative. They are their own little initiation ceremony, helping us to die to our old self and be reborn into a different person.
Just a quick endnote: it was a sad day, and out thoughts and prayers go out to Jimmys family and Alice in particular. However, it was relieved by the opportunity that funerals always seem to provide of catching up with old friends, in this case at the Durham Ox, the first pub I ever went to. Also relieved by a wonderful jazz evening at a nearby village hall arranged to raise money for the local community, with amazing jazz and salsa duo Mamba Jamba. Great fun.