The world lost a brilliant person and a beautiful human being this weekend. Joe Fox’s death came suddenly and sorrowfully to those of us who knew him well. I am not sure I have all the right words, nor am I certain I can do him justice, but as someone who spent a lot of time with Joe over the past few years, I’m grieving and now is perhaps the best time to remember a friend.
For some background: I met Joe years ago when I was invited down to speak for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. At the time Joe had a leadership role in that community and had heard of me through acquaintances. After my presentation to the community, Joe and I sat down and, over conversation and a few drinks, became fast friends. One of my struggles at that time was my detachment from the broader atheist movement as a whole; I was questioning who I was and what I wanted to do–I knew that going to school was a priority at this point and I knew that I wanted to find something more positive and uplifting than my past had been as an outspoken atheist activist. As I got older, I just didn’t agree with the modern movement I helped to create–it had become something different, something angrier, that just didn’t feel right for me anymore. Joe became a beacon for me. He introduced me to humanism and I, after some contemplation, was drawn to it.
Joe was one of the nicest individuals I have met; he was inclusive, he was a loving father, he was a leader and an organizer, but most important of all, he made an effort to help people as much as he could. Joe Fox was there for me when I needed a ride to group events, he pushed me to start my freethought group, he encouraged community outreach in our organizations–helping the poor, doing blood drives; Joe showed everyone the humanity of humanism. He always smiled, even when he was going through some complicated personal problems. He laughed all the time, always had a joke, was constantly engaging people, and making them think.
In my world, that is the world of a secularist, when someone dies, I don’t ask for prayers (though, if that is what you do, that’s fine); instead I try to remember them, to keep their good works alive, to instill in everyone the sense that the one we lost had an impact on the future. In this sense, both the humanist or the religionist are trying to grasp hold of immortality, albeit in different ways. But for the secularist, seeking immortality is a materialistic venture–and it is a life-long endeavor. We try to do good deeds often and plentifully, we try to give back to our communities, we want to be remembered as great individuals so that when we die, our memory lives on. But as many of my readers know, memories are fickle things and not everyone attains that glory.
As for Joe Fox, he will easily be remembered as the excellent man he was. I greatly regret not making more time for him the past year; with school and work constraints I did not always have the ability to make it out to meetings or community movie nights. But I will always think of Joe fondly as a mentor and friend. I will remember the fun times we had, all our conversations (some important and others not so much).
For those of us who knew Joe, we will never forget him. In fact we miss him terribly. We can mourn him–and we are–but it is clear to all of us he left behind, he has gained immortality.