“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once”, William Shakespeare.
Justin would have hated being glorified today. He never understood why people loved him. Why they listened to him, or even why they wanted to be around him. But we do.
When we saw Justin, we saw a hunk of a man very much like…. me! We saw a genius very much like…. me! We saw a fighter unlike…. me. I’m soft… he was fucking valiant, not in the old fashion sense of the word. He gave it its own meaning.
Most of us will never know what Justin felt daily and he would not have wanted us to. Life was not easy for him. He was different. He did not get the same pleasures from life that most do. But he tried and tried. He fought and fought. He told me he was most comfortable being a thug! But for his family, for himself, he became a yoga teacher! He went from crushing skulls to teaching flows and saving souls.
He brought thousands of people a slice of joy, a bit of comfort, a safe place to be themselves. One of the best moments of his teaching career was when he was playing his music too loud in our Birmingham studio. We shared a wall with an art dealer. The art dealer came into the studio twice asking Justin to turn the music down. The first time Justin complied.. a little (if he really complied, I would not have a juicy story to tell). The second time the man opened the yoga room door yelling, “turn the music down”. The yoga students were turned in the other direction. So they did not see the man or hear him. Justin grabbed the guy by the wrists and flung him out of the room. He then told him, “if you enter the studio again, I will snap your neck”. Ten minutes later there was another knock at the studio door. This time it was the police. Justin had to keep teaching class while the police were trying to charge him with assault and threatening physical harm. In between the cops asking him, “did you put your hands on Mr. So and So and did you threaten to snap his neck”, Justin would shout out to the class, “keep breathing and come from a place of love”. What yoga teacher gets arrested while teaching, gets out of it and keeps the class moving without them ever knowing what happened? Only Justin. He had a heroism that was unorthodox. He had a sensitivity that was surprisingly soft. He should of died many times; car wrecks, ass whoopings, drugs. But only cowards die many times before their death. He was valiant and has only tasted it this once.
Justin, as many of you know, joined a cult in 2008. Oh, I mean an ashram. The cult leader, I mean the teacher, Swami Parthasarathy, was one of the few people Justin truly tried to give himself to. He had a profound respect for Swamiji. Some of our best times together were at the ashram, not necessarily learning. But with a full house of Indians, many of whom were celibate or virgins, we told stories about our sexual encounters, drug deals, heists we pulled and other entertaining topics. No one laughed harder, louder, or longer than we did at the ashram. But when Swamiji spoke, we were dead silent. We ate up every word and with no doubt, Justin was a spiritual warrior. But that did not stop him from being adventurous there.
Once we went with the cricket team to Malaysia. We drifted off in the day and found some great vegan restaurants and gyms. I got a bit bored. So I came up with a brilliant idea to take off and go to Thailand. We did not tell anyone, because we did not want to bother them (not). In Thailand, while Justin was in the middle of a three year course in India, he met some nice ladies (you know what I mean). We were arrested twice and dined and ditched a few times. We both knew a few days there were a few too long. Upon this “realization”, I switched our plane tickets and we rushed to the airport.. oops, I drove us two hours to the wrong airport… I wish I wrote down all the lovely names Justin called me. There were some great ones. Once back in Malaysia, Swamiji, for the first and last time, ripped me to pieces. But it was the best time we had ever spent together, well worth the scolding.
Justin was given his own “rules” at the ashram, not because he could not follow their rules, well maybe it was exactly because of that! But Swamiji understood that Justin had one of the brightest, subtle intellects in the world. It was just a bit covered. The whole place was behind him and cherished him. So when I was searching for words about J, I texted Swamiji’s assistant and asked “is there any way Swamiji can write something about life or death? Anything that he sees fit..?” One minute later, in the middle of the night in India, Swamiji wrote:
“Matthew Arnold says, “life is an arrow shot from the darkness, flutters in the light for a while and vanishes back into the darkness”. We must acknowledge that this young man’s glitter was brilliant. He was a soul loved by all of us and it is pity that he left us so young. The ashram remembers him kindly and so do all of us. May his soul Rest In Peace and comfort.”
So let us not be mad, or sad. There is no loss! Knowing JVD was a tremendous gain. The only loss in life would have been to miss out on knowing him and none of us missed that! We are celebrating a brilliant, well loved man. Cancer does not really kill us. Our egos do. Our ignorance does.
Life is precious. Its magic is in the little things, not in our big dreams. We all experienced JVD. He was a Viking, a gladiator. He is fucking JAX. He worshipped Jack Bauer. He lived his 24 and in it, your paths, our paths collided. That’s life! That’s the gift, the connection. My girls and I lived with him. We were a family. He was so loving to them, so protective. That counted to us; to him. There was shit too. Lots of it. But the very worst of times brought about the very best of him and our family. We all struggle. We all court lies. We all sell ourselves short. But Justin even did that great. He went big! Even at his worst, we all saw his beauty. It was always right there and the shame was he could not see it.
The last bit of dialogue we had, per usual, was deep and philosophical. Warning! To honor J, I did not edit this. There is vulgar language which will be translated after I read the original copy.
EP: How are you today, my brother?
J: I’m feeling pretty good, just not looking forward to Wednesday.
EP: That’s awesome. Fuck Wednesday! Go in and act like Ragnoth from the Vikings.
J: Ha ya, he is the man! I’ve probably read 20 books about him. The show is actually somewhat accurate. They considered him like a god. Some shit they recorded about him is crazy. Real life bad mother fucker.
EP: I’m a real life twat. There will be nothing recorded about me, but a few shit yelp reviews.
J : Unfortunately, yes you are! But at least you know your station.
EP: A man’s got to know himself.
J: The fact that you know you’re a twat almost makes you not a twat. Not quite, but almost.
EP: I think it makes me a bit more tolerable when people know that I know.
Some of you might find the language rude, upsetting, and what a miss that would be. If you allow words to bother you, then you missed out on Justin. He was a wordsmith. His love of language was like him, special. Now for the translation/subtext of the conversation….
EP: Hi, my brother. I’m worried for you and cheering you on.
J: I’m feeling good now. But I’m scared about going in again.
EP: All you have is today. Tomorrow you will be a hero, because that’s who you are.
J: I’m not a hero. But I read about them and I’m scared.
EP: Me too! I’m scared and afraid of what people think of me.
J: Yes, you are. You are full of fear, but at least you are aware of it.
EP: At least I know myself.
J: The fact that you know it makes the fear almost disappear.
EP: It makes me be able to tolerate myself a bit more.
J: It does and I love you!
EP: I love you!
Justin would want me to tell you do not miss out on what is really being said in life. Often people cannot say what they really feel or mean. Justin was one of those people. But for those who
really knew him, he did not need to say a thing. We knew by a laugh, a smile, a question or comment, even a blow up. We knew in that space between words who he was and how he felt. But for today just in case there is a shadow of a doubt about how he felt, I will be his voice and say to the four most important people he had, what he told me about them and what he wanted to tell you.
Dad, “I have never respected another man like you. Your perseverance, family devotion and patience with me was second to none. I, more than anything, wanted to make you proud and I realized when I came home that I made you proud just by being me. Thank you for freeing me and making it that easy to please you. I remember while studying about “what a great man is”, I told Eric “dude, this is my dad”. Oh, and you know how I know you are gay….
Leah: I never meant for my little sister to take care of me. But I always meant to tell you that I am so proud of you. The choices you have made for yourself and our family are the kind I wished I could have made myself. I did all I could with what I had and I know you loved me no matter what. I really loved you the same way. I got so much joy watching you live your life. Keep living it the way you always have: with dignity, integrity and class. Avi will take the best of me and help to fill the void I leave behind. Don’t let Eric or Cliff corrupt him.
Mom: I so often gave you my worst because I knew I was safe with you. I know it wasn’t fair. But all of my yelling, all of the short temper was on me. Believe it or not, taking it out on you actually saved me many times from doing something more destructive to myself or others.
You are the glue. You are our leader. You were my champion. No one has fought for another like you have fought for me. You did not make a single mistake. It was me making them.
Do not feel responsible for my demons, my struggles. I wanted to tell you this so many times, but couldn’t. I loved you so deeply, it scared me. I felt so “seen” by you and I could not handle it.
I wanted to. But know this, any ounce of comfort I felt in the world always was traced back to you. I heard your voice in my head daily and felt your love. I took advantage of that love in the wrong ways many times. But finally in the last few years, I took it in the right way and as physically sick as I was, I had never felt better. Please take that same love you gave me and give it to yourself. Don’t let my leaving, leave you behind. Dad, Leah, Fane, grandma, Avi and you have a blast. Laugh! Eat! Eat some more and laugh some more. Travel. Help people! You are gifted and most importantly, give Eric all my shoes. Oh, and my best watch.
Grandma: my dear grandmother. You have created a family like no other. Your strength, genius, kindness, and selflessness have set an example for all of us to live by. You need and want so little, yet you give and love like a giant. I heard you, grandma. I listened. All the conversations you tried to have with me, they were not for nothing. I even told Eric the other day, “grandma might be the baddest human being on earth”. Thank you for giving all of us each other. My death, grandma, isn’t a tragedy, its life. Some live long lives. Others don’t. But we all pass. You have seen so much life, hang in there and see some more. There is no better person god keeps on this earth than you.
For the rest of us, one of Justin’s favorite quotes from the “Sons of Anarchy” is from Tara when reintroduced to the love of her life, Jax:
‘We don’t know who we are until we are connected to someone else. We’re just better human beings when with the person we’re supposed to be with. I wasn’t supposed to leave, I belong here”.
There is a proverb Justin and I believe in fully, “a stone fit for a wall won’t be left in the way”. Justin no longer belonged here. But we do. He left us with each other. Let us honor him in our relationships. Rejoice when thinking of him. Step out of our comfort zones. Be willing to work as hard as he did to transform himself and help lift each other up.
A final word from Justin to all of us, spoken by Jax Teller from the “Sons of Anarchy”.
“Here’s the lesson for you all today and for always: hold on to the simple moments. Appreciate them a little more. There’s not a lot of them.
Finding things that make you happy should not be that hard.
I know you will face pain, suffering, hard choices. But you cannot let the weight of that choke the joy out of your life.
No matter what, you have to find the things that love you! Run to them.
There’s an old saying: “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I don’t believe that. I believe the things that try to kill you make you angry and sad. Strength comes from the good things – your family, friends, the satisfaction of hard work.
Those are the things that will keep you whole. Those are the things that you hold onto when you are broken.”
Justin left the world with a walk-off home run, a fucking hundred foot putt and sunk it to win it all. There is nothing sad or tragic about it.
He left a world champion. He made peace with himself. Committed to being who he was even if it was ugly at times.
He vowed to be genuine and became that. He learned how to be loved and received it.
He learned how to be patient and felt at ease with it. How is this tragic? Terrible? Sad? It’s not.
I had a brother whom I cherished. He was many things to many people. We celebrate having someone like this in our lives. Will we miss him?? Yes! Is it painful thinking about not seeing him again?? Yes!!
So if you love him and mention loss, tragedy, or fuck cancer again, I would not be surprised if my thug guru of a brother came down from the heavens and slapped some sense into you. Death comes in all kinds of ways. Who cares? What Justin would want for us is to live because life comes in all kinds of ways. Live!
I guarantee Justin left when he wanted and was suppose to and is chillin’ right now. So what’s tragic is the selfishness that’s involved with death. I’ve cried and cried and will continue to. But not because he is gone. But because while he was here, I was blessed to share in the brotherhood of our MC and because I know he is finally at peace.
Samcro forever, brother. Hold a spot for me at the table. You can even have the gavel. I’ll be there one of these days. Actually, I take that back. When I get there, I’m taking the gavel from you.