Thursday, August 06, 2020

Remembering James Miller

I found out yesterday evening that my friend, James Miller, had passed away due to an aggressive infection that turned septic. He was 50 years old. 

What follows is a series of memories, thoughts, and images about James and his impact on me.


I met James for the first time at - in a plot twist that will surprise no one that knew him - a board gaming convention in 2000. Why I was in the car that went to pick him up at the Chattanooga airport is a piece of the story that is lost to the mists of 20 years... but I distinctly remember liking James immediately. He was the kind of person who made the room (or the car) a little brighter, a little warmer, and a whole lot more welcoming.


I'm going to tell you a joke... it's not a particularly funny joke, but it's one that James loved and that I made up and therefore you're going to have to hear it. 

At my first Gathering of Friends (an invitational board game convention) in 2002, I passed by a table late one evening where James and some other folks were playing Pueblo. In the game, you place Tetris-like blocks into a central structure and assess points based on what can be seen from each side of the edifice... and also from above. As James explained the rules to me, I remarked that this overhead view was a "Hopi-copter"... and that's all it took to reduce James to near-tears of laughter. 

Over the years, he would mention that line and grin ear to ear or chuckle... and I felt both proud of my wordplay (something James was brilliant at) and enveloped in his humor and friendship.


James is not the only friend who made it possible for me to attend Gulf Games and The Gathering of Friends during my time as small church pastor in California - the generosity of those folks were a balm to my weary soul, particularly near the end of my ministry. But James was even more than that - for two years (2012 and 2013), he was my roommate and confidante at The Gathering. 

Each time, we spent over a week living with each other, taking care of each other (James made sure I ate, I made sure he rested). We played lots of games, since we both operated on the same "early morning" schedule... and our "let's see what older games deserve a second chance" meetings with Mario were a highlight of my Gathering experience.

James worried that his snoring would keep me awake. I felt the same for him. Somehow, we cancelled each other out.

In 2012, he listened and encouraged me as I talked about the struggles I'd had with leading the church and my hopes that we were reaching a better place. In 2013, when I attended the Gathering after I had resigned my role as pastor, he listened and gave me a safe place to hurt and to laugh. 

I will never forget the gift of being his roomie.


When James found out that the Jackson family didn't have an iPad, he mailed us one of his. 

I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but we were not in a position where we could have bought an iPad - and that one gave us years of good service and enjoyment. To James, it was just another way to help out and care for us. 

It did.


For years, I told Shari and the boys that I wished they could meet James... and in the spring of 2019, the boys finally had the opportunity at the last Gulf Games to be held in Chattanooga. (I just realized - the last place I saw James is the first place I saw James.)

He took the three of us to lunch and we told stories, laughed, ate too much food, and generally enjoyed each others company. Both Collin & Braeden walked away saying how much they liked James... that he was as neat as I'd said he was. 

In February 2020, Collin & I had to bow out of attending Gulf Games due to Shari's health... one of the things that bummed both of us out was missing the opportunity to see James.


Seeing so many people post their memories of James and his warmth, his friendship, his incredible kindness, his humor, and his enjoyment of others yesterday and this morning has been both heartwarming and emotionally difficult. I'm thankful for the difference he made in so many lives; I'm crushed that I won't be sitting across the table from him again and hear him welcome me to the wonderful world of [fill in the blank] as he explains the rules. 

I also realized I don't have any pictures of James... or James & me. I'm blaming the fact that I was busy having fun with him and never bothered to pick up the camera/phone.


I am thankful for James and for his friendship... and I'm heartbroken at his death. 


Unknown said...

Mark - that’s a fantastic tribute to a truly wonderful man. I too met James for the first time in Chattanooga, though the last time I got to spend time in person with him was on a board gaming trip (go figure) in TN in January of this year. I spoke to him on the phone as recently as last month (we share a love of puzzles and he was recommending some of his favorite puzzle books to me, which I subsequently purchased). I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare where I live in a world without James. It seems nearly impossible to imagine, yet I have to accept the reality that he’s gone. I can only console myself by hoping he’s in a better place and free of the pain he’s been dealing with the past few years (not that James would ever complain - I was with him on a cruise of the Baltic Sea when he was in incredible pain and none of us even knew until much later because James simply refused to complain or make anything about him - his first concern was others, even when his pain level would have brought most of us to tears).

Unknown said...

FYI - this is Ron Temske, it listed me as unknown for some reason but certainly not trying to hide my comments!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Ron - thank you.

Greg J. Schloesser said...

What an absolutely wonderful tribute to a gentle giant. James had a kind and generous soul and a heart bigger than Texas. I, too, shall miss our friend terribly.

Chris Lohroff said...

Such a terrific tribute, Mark. I'm finding it interesting that there is so much commonality about what people are sharing. I guess James was just James... all the time.

Erik Arneson said...

Beth and I knew James was amazing, but it is still remarkable to see how often he made such a huge impact on so many people. Thank you for sharing the wonderful stories, Mark.

E.R. Burgess said...

Thanks for sharing your stories about James, Mark. They are certainly representative of my experience being his friend. Kindness is certainly the most underrated character trait, and James belongs on the example listing for the definition. Thank you for also talking about his wonderful sense of humor, too. I will certainly miss him next time we're all back at the game tables regularly.

Tim said...

Thank you for sharing, especially the “Hopi-copter” joke and enduring laughter because of it. We need to remember the fun and funny. Hugs.

Charlie said...

Mark, Thanks for your thoughts. I don't have good stories but I always loved seeing him.

Tom said...

Mark, thanks for a wonderful tribute to James!

moofrank said...

I too will miss him greatly. James had this way of instantly making friends, and people around him were always happier.

My weird story involves a trip he and I made for dinner in Columbus. Indian food (of course) signaled with the simple word exchange of "Dosas?" "Mmmm. Dosas."
Within 30 seconds of seating us at our table, our waitress declares that she
"feels like we are totally friends", then sits down at our table and tells us s light story of her meth addict days. Surreal, funny, and perhaps more than a wee bit awkward. But the three of us were laughing merrily.