The Life and Times of Jameson Jones – Chapter Four: Brave in the Attempt

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Destiny flows inexorably from its gentle source down to the sea, sometimes placidly, sometimes turbulently, but always moving, always pushing forward…

In the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, there is a room devoted exclusively to four large allegorical paintings by Thomas Cole, 19th Century founder of the romantic Hudson River School of Art. These panels, collectively called The Voyage of Life, depict the four stages of human existence: childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. In the third of the four panels—the one depicting adulthood—the voyager is desperately praying as his small boat leaves the placid waters of childhood and youth and begins to drift toward a cascade of forbidding rapids that evoke not only self-doubt but also threaten his very existence. That’s Jameson Jones as he enters his fourth decade.

He has been living in Washington for several years now. He has a wife and two children. Presidents Ford and Carter have come and gone; America is deep into the Regan era. One day, Jameson returns to his office after lunch to find a note on his desk. There is a scribbled phone number and a message: “Please call Sargent Shriver ASAP.” Assuming it is a prank, he dials the number and asks to speak to “Sarge.”

“One moment please. Whom may I say is calling?” Jameson swallows hard and resists the temptation to hang up. Within the hour, he is sitting in Shriver’s office.

And so he finds himself once again in the Kennedy orbit. This time, however, he is revolving around Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband Sargent Shriver, founders of Special Olympics, a world-wide movement that provides life-changing athletic training and sports competition to individuals with intellectual disabilities as well as support for their families. Jameson is the new Director of International Programs and it has fallen to him and a dedicated multi-national team to work with existing national programs in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and to develop new programs in countries that wish to become part of the Special Olympics movement. It’s challenging and rewarding work, a physical and emotional rollercoaster ride that leaves Jameson enthralled by profound human magic some days and, like Cole’s lonely voyager, begging for divine assistance on others.

But in time, Jameson begins to feel more and more like the falcon in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” “Turning and turning in the widening gyre; He cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Hong Kong, Nepal, India, Japan, Korea, the opening of China; Australia and New Zealand; Jamaica and Trinidad; Venezuela, Argentina, Chile; Ireland, England, Norway, Belgium, France, Austria, and Poland; Jordan and Israel; Nigeria and Kenya; the globe is a spinning blur. But back home, the cost is too dear and a ransom must be paid. Things do indeed fall apart; the centre does not hold. Jameson finds himself alone.

While he does not blame his work for his divorce, he knows he cannot continue to be in such constant motion. It is time to come home, even if it is to a spare one-bedroom apartment. The Special Olympics oath is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” There is nothing left for Jameson now but to be brave in the attempt.

A few months later, Jameson is just beginning a new job at National Geographic when his beloved father—gentle Lawyer Jones—dies. Jameson holds on for dear life as his leaky little boat plunges into the churning whitewater ahead.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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