Monday 7 May 2007
I first met Michael Bishop on April 19, 1995. He'd come over from Pine Mountain, GA, to visit with my creative writing class at LaGrange College, spending willing time and offering avuncular advice to a couple dozen wannabe writers, me included.
We went to lunch afterwards, a local restaurant now gone, and there were greeted by the blare of CNN, their seemingly ubiquitous and garish breaking news logo. On screen was the burned-out shell of what only minutes before had been the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the demented handiwork of Timothy McVeigh, the first in a legion of madmen who would haunt America in the coming decade.
I remember staring at the screen in disbelief. I remember Mike shaking his head, I remember him saying, "I just don't understand."
And I remember thinking that I knew no one in the entire rolling state of Oklahoma, remember breathing a guilty sigh of relief. Nor did I know anyone who attended Columbine High School. Or anyone who worked in the World Trade Centers or, for that matter, who lived in the noisy, people-clogged grid of New York City.
I remember hurting for those losses but it was a faraway pain, more like the memory of pain, a dream of agony. And I, like so many others, wept for the ache of those who had lost, a pain that I truly could not even begin to imagine.
Then almost 12 years to the day from when Mike Bishop and I had stood in that deli lobby and pondered the madness that was humanity (a madness that seems to breed far too easily in this broad-shouldered country) came that awful, unstoppable Monday: news of yet another school shooting, this one a college, Virginia Tech another faraway place, another dot on an unknown map, another blank space in which I, presumably, knew no one.
Though his father is one of my closest friends, I met Jamie Bishop only once. It was a handful of years ago at Trinoc*coN in North Carolina, where Jamie was featured as an artist, his father as a writer. We engaged in a few hallway conversations, all of them group chats, a half dozen of us, writers and wannabes, wedged into some hotel corner to swap tales and laughs. Jamie was one of the last true Southern gentlemen, bespectacled and pony-tailed and as gentle and warm and funny as his pop.
He taught German at Virginia Tech, but his passion was graphic design, as evidenced in the covers he created for four of his father's books: Edgewood Press' Time Pieces, Golden Gryphon's Brighten to Incandescence, and PS Publishing's A Reverie for Mr. Ray and the forthcoming Passing for Human. You can see in those bright busy covers the glee of the artist's mind, the wonder and talent and promise that this young man held, the world that unfurled before him.
I taught Brighten to Incandescence in a course this past fall, and Mike, gracious as ever, agreed to visit and share the whats and whys of some of the stories. One of the secrets he confessed to this class was his intense dislike of chihuahuas, that yippy, palsied breed of dog. He drew attention to the cover, mentioned with more than a little pride how his son had designed it; then he pointed to the spine where a chihuahua glared out at the world. "Jamie did that on purpose," Mike told us, grinning. "Designed it so that I would be forever stared down by that infernal chihuahua."
Like that yip-happy dog, Jamie Bishop is here with us still, as are all the victims of Virgina Tech and every other accident and tragedy that plagues our day-to-day world: in the little things they've left behind, the smiles, the memories that remain branded in our hearts.
At the memorial service for Jamie Bishop, the Rev. Matthew Mitchell recited a poem, "Between Classes," written by Mike years before. I leave you, then, with a heart ripped asunder, questions that will remain forever unanswered, and a father's words, assurance of his son's eternal presence:
A closed office, light off.
Jack Slay, Jr.
(Donations to the Jamie Bishop Scholarship in Graphic Arts may be made care of LaGrange College, 601 Broad Street, LaGrange GA 30420).
The above piece ran last week in the LaGrange, Georgia LaGrange Daily News and is reprinted here with permission of Jack Slay, Jr. and Michael Bishop.
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