Another year has gone by and it has now somehow been five years. I wrote the piece below (“Four years”) last year and never shared it with anyone, then found it yesterday when I was reflecting on what to say at NationBuilder’s annual giving thanks staff meeting. Today is one of those special years where Thanksgiving falls on November 23rd, so, it felt right to share now…
My friend Jim Gilliam passed away four years ago today, November 23rd.
Recently someone said to me: you don’t want to be on your deathbed saying, “not yet.” The words struck me because they were exactly the words I said when Jim first fell ill, muttering them over and over as I raced out of the house to the hospital.
Not wasting a single second of the life he’d been given was Jim’s core operating system. This counting of minutes, making sure they were being used most powerfully and efficiently—jam packing as much meaningful activity into every day—was one of the things that bonded us. From the outside, given his medical history & life experiences, his obsession with making every second count made sense, but those who knew him as a young person said he’d always been fiercely impatient. Maybe he came in with it, and his experiences only reinforced and amplified that feeling.
I don’t have a remotely similar history, but I did come in with the feeling of the clock ticking, constantly aware of minutes passing by, counting days left before the end of school or vacations or events. Always counting minutes. Wasting life or wasting time, to Jim, was the greatest sin. It’s all we have and you can’t get it back.
One of his favorite days was Thanksgiving. He believed we are all where we are because of other people, whether we know their names or not. So a day dedicated to gratitude & thanking others for their impact on our lives meant a lot to him. We carry on the tradition he started at our company—every Wednesday before US thanksgiving we disrupt our usual staff meeting and offer thanks to each other.
The last day Jim was conscious was on Thanksgiving. He said, both earnestly & cheekily: Thanksgiving is a good day to die. When he passed away the next morning on November 23rd, I was distraught because it was no longer Thanksgiving. Then I realized—the date changes every year. So some years, it would be.
Today, the anniversary of his death falls on a Wednesday. So, during our annual Thanksgiving staff meeting, we will be giving thanks not just to each other, but to those who came before. To those who helped each of us become who we are and who brought us here, together. Including, of course, the one and only Jim Gilliam, whose ferocity and clarity of purpose gave us the place where we now stand—doing our best to never waste a moment, creating what each of us are meant to create.