I am an avid movie fan especially, good movies with a message, and the Last Samurai with Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe brought something to bear in both quality and message.   There are tremendous story lines in most Samurai movies.  The first Samurai movies date back to the fifties in black and white and these movies do have a following.  

In the 14th -17th century, Samurai or Bushi were the members of the elite military class and trained to serve the landowners and Lords in feudal Japan.  Their fate was sealed unless they liked being farmers.  

Samurai were supposed to lead their lives according to the ethic code of bushido (“The way of the warrior").  Strongly Confucian  in nature, bushido stressed concepts such as loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior.

In the movie the Samurai leader Katsumoto thanks Tom Cruise, whom he capture after being wounded and nursed back to health.  He was his captive prisoner after a long battle and during the winter, the two start a conversation  and gradually get to know each other. 

They had more in common than either had thought,  the two mortal enemies after leaving the field of combat find they seek the same things in life even after a years captivity, and they become friends and eventually allies.  Katsumoto thanks Cruise for his “Interesting Conversations”.                                                                                           

We don't talk anymore. We are impersonal, we text, we twit, we communicate in savage tongues and burped words.  We have aliases and fake mail accounts to hide our faces.   Most of which we do is useless or worthless conversation. It reflects in our society, our children's education, and creates false empires.

My close friend and neighbor Jim Wise passed away last year, I volunteered to speak and eulogize him at his funeral and this movie story came to me… I was a nervous and confident at the same time, since Jewish people normally spend little time in Catholic Churches, but 450 weddings I photographed helped,  but I was wonderfully welcomed by Father Pat who didn’t even question what I was about to say and my pulpit is yours…  

He looked in my eyes, he seemed to know me, “You were Jim’s friend”,  I wondered if Jim had ever mentioned me.  Toward the end of the proper funeral service, and mass, the Priest called me to the pulpit.  I took out my notes, laid them on the lectern and never looked at them, the words came easy to me... after, Jim’s wife told me the Priest had on occasion fell asleep during the boring moments, she told me, he never even blinked, he was Jim’s friend also and words have meanings...



It is both with great sadness and celebration that I stand in front of you today in this House of Worship to remember the life of my good friend Jim Wise.  We spent many, many hours together.  

I am happy to see so many of Jim’s, friends, neighbors and relatives attending.  And I know that many of you traveled a long way to be here, and I truly believe Jim would be incredibly appreciative to see you.  He is looking down as we speak and... he knows you are here.

Almost nine years ago Jim interviewed me and my late wife Dolly when we applied to live at Country Club Condominiums. A simple one-hour screening interview turned into many hours, and many additional conversations with “the Mayor of Building Three” as he was well known by continued for years.

I believe one of the members of the Home Owners Association gave him that nickname after he served almost three terms on the HOA board.  He took an active interest in serving and knew just about everything that was going on at the condos.   He always had a word or something to talk about whether at the communal mailbox, or when he was tinkering in his garage.   When we had problems in the building, he was there, contributing his advise and problem solving.

After I lost my wife, almost six years ago, I still made a full pot of coffee every morning as I had done for decades.  I admit to being a coffee ritual, addict.   And it became a shared ritual, a morning a cup of “Jo” with JIM and continue our conversations on a daily basis. It was the 8:30 O’ clock coffee break, I start my day at 5:30 AM, unofficial but just like the Euro trains, he was always on time.  

Why waste good fresh coffee?  I had plenty and he liked coffee.  He also had a sweet tooth and liked the French Vanilla Bean, two spoons of NesQuick Chocolate and a splash of Irish Mist flavoring. It was his favorite pick-me-up and elixir.  Today they bottle it and sell it with a five-hour guarantee.  It was Jim’s pick me up, he was old school, and in a way like me.

Many days, we had breakfast together.  He was my test bed for cooking, like “Mike-ee” in that commercial, he’d try anything I made.  He liked my cooking and we had a lot of fun and a couple laughs together.  

With the onset of his Macular Degeneration, he was losing his vision, and combined with other pertinent health issues, he began losing his sight more rapidly.    I could see the importance of our time we spent together,  I was his sight keeping him in touch with the world.  His expression, “So what’s the latest news or gossip?”  

I said, “We better go to the paper, ain’t nothing going on here“.  We went through the paper together, I read he listened, and we talked about everything from football to politics, and we both agreed, college football is better and many politicians are closely related to crooks sharing the same DNA.

When he didn’t or couldn’t show, I called to see if he was OK.  He saw his world dimming but he still wanted to know what was going on.  This was his time, he knew it, and then a movie made me think .

I must digress for a moment…  I am going to refer to a movie with a message... A movie starring Tom Cruise (played Captain Algren) and Ben Watanabe (played Katsumoto) was called “The  Last Samurai”  and did well at the box office. It was the story of an American military advisor hired to do away with the Samurai rebels who were resisting the overtaking of Japan by greedy Western influence in the late 1800’s.

Our hero was wounded and captured by the rebel Samurai Warlord. After being held for almost a year, and gradually through “Intelligent Conversations” they shared their thoughts and feelings about life and situations.  They got to know and like, respect and be honest with each other.  Getting to know his captor’s culture, he embraced the Samurai Code.  He had realized the Samurai were the good guys in this story.  It started with simple conversation over a cup of tea and they became friends.   Somehow it connected. 

Where are we today, we do not converse, we technically communicate. Our electronic conversation is cold blooded, limited to texting, voice mails, twits and tweets. Some written by those who are real nit-twits and can’t spell and would be better off speaking to each other. I invented a new word, what do you call it when two nit-twits talk to each other?  Twitillation!

Just look at our position in the world in education, namely Math and Science (education wise) which has sunk to new lows. In fact being 27th and 35th, in the world is nothing to brag about.  It shows in the communication. Some messages I get are so cryptic, you would think they were done on a WWII German Enigma machine that baffled the famed British code-breakers.  I have no clue as to what some things mean or are supposed to mean.

Jim’s Legacy was Intelligent Conversation…he never twitted, tweeted or even got on the computer but he could converse and have an intelligent conversation about what was around him and it grew smaller with his vision loss.

Losing someone you respected is never easy, but when their life is taken away so rapidly, it is that much more difficult. There are many un-filled questions I would throw at him if he were here today. I will miss my friend and I hope that these words will help alleviate some of the grief we are are all feeling today.

If he were here now at this podium, he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we can all share with each other, positive thoughts.  Even though Jim may be gone, his memory will live on in some of us. I sincerely appreciated your friendship, Jim, I appreciated the “Intelligent Conversation”.  

Everyone should start their day and share their world with others and a cup of coffee is a really good place to start.  He drank out of this cup in my hand for many years.  This is Jim’s cup, the one he always used.  It says on it “Friends are the flowers of the heart”.   It is now for his beloved Geraldine to have it.

And with that I say sleep well, rest and speak well my friend, I know you are in a good place…and as entertaining as ever… Even when God spoke to Moses, Moses knew he had partaken of a good conversation, now it is your turn Jim, and mention my name to him....


————*06-07-2019 aljacobsladder.com