You should be so lucky in your life to meet someone who makes you want to strive to be the best possible version of yourself. That they can do that with invisible grace and little more than a smile and a few words of encouragement. That they can do that by being an example of it themselves. That they can continue to exert that memory and influence over thousands of miles and infrequent contact. You should be so lucky.
I have been that lucky.
In 2006 I met Jake in the airport lobby in Hong Kong as our plane had deplaned for a lay-over on it’s way to Bali. I had my new camera out and was playing with it and he approached me to talk about photography. We started talking about cameras and taking pictures and discovered that we were on the way to the same conference in Bali. Also, that he had just moved to Portland to head up the Idealist.org office there.
At the conference he, Summer, and I spent a lot of time together and became fast friends. In Ubud, Bali at the conference we ate at the same pizza joint after the conference, danced at the karaoke night, where he did an amazing rendition of “Mountain Music” by Alabama before breakdancing with the group. We got lots of liter beers of Bintang and drank them on the side of the road somewhere in a small group. I remember having trouble with the caps and us having to figure out a way to open the bottles with a carabiner. We hid the bottles every time a car drove by and probably disturbed a sleeping neighborhood.
Back in Portland we got together whenever we were both in town. Both of us traveling a lot for work then.
I remember many coffees and Wednesday night drinks with Reno where we discussed the world and technology and life and everything else. If only I had transcripts of those conversations…
Jake was someone who accepted you for who you were. He might have some thoughts on it, and you could have a conversation about it, but he still accepted you. Loved you might be a more appropriate sentiment.
I remember a group of Campus Christians sitting at a table next to us at Powell’s Books and us overhearing some comments they were making. I left to go to the bathroom only to come back to find Jake holding court with the whole group having created a semicircle around him. We discussed heady theological/philosophical stuff for an hour before everyone parted happily.
Jake created conversations, created engagement, translated between groups, built bridges, and sometimes ferried people across those bridges.
I remember sitting in my ridiculous van in my driveway having a long talk about purpose and fear and life goals as he was preparing to move to DC and I preparing to start my round the world adventure.
He moved to DC and I got to check in with him every so often as his trajectory sped upwards at an ever increasing pace, his sphere of influence growing at each change in career. From Idealist when I met him, to the Energy Action Coalition, to the Sunlight Foundation, to Change.org, and finally, as should have been expected with Jake, a position advising the President of the United States.
I remember staying at his bottom floor apartment in DC in 2007 and him waking me up in the living room at full volume with the “Flower Duet” opera. Conducting it and making me wait for just the right parts before throwing his hands up in enthusiasm. I wanted to see what Super Tuesday was like in DC. He showed me around and was an amazing host.
I remember a long night out in DC where we were meeting up a group at a Bachelorette party. I believe I may have even awkwardly and drunkenly bought the group a couple bottles of champagne.
We returned to his house later in the night, necessarily via taxi, and had to have pizza, but were somewhat unable to acquire it ourselves. MK arrived shortly thereafter. I remember pleading with her: “We must pizza, can you help us?” or something like that. She took care of us with her usual grace and good humor.
In 2009 He flew out to be a photographer for my wedding to Summer. He was her wing-man through makeup and hair and documented the process. Taking so many wonderful pictures that the batteries in the flash were ejected to hot to touch more than once.
In 2011 I had the honor of meeting his whole family and soon to be in-laws at his wedding to the amazing Mary Katherine, I’ve never had so much fun with a family in my entire life. Summer and I were honored beyond words to be included.
I remember his open heart and his wise nature. His optimism and seemingly boundless ability to connect people, to see the best version of them through their own eyes.
I remember many quick calls and text exchanges. Each standing out on their own now.
As the legion of people that loved Jake descend on Washington DC to pay their last respects to a great man whose time was cut too short, I think we will see something Jake himself would have loved. So many of the people he loved and respected together in one place connecting or re-connecting, talking, exchanging ideas, memories, stories.
Jake is not done changing the world. The people he has touched will carry his ideas and his intentions on to the best of their ability. He has connected me to amazing people who I will keep close. His memory will continue to make me strive to be a better person and to affect positive change. I’ll use his example to teach my children to be better people and with that he will continue to change the world.
You should be so lucky. I have been so lucky. We who were able to orbit his star if even for a short time.
Qui Moede quoted Ralph Waldo Emmerson when remembering Jake and it was so perfect I felt I needed to as well.
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Jake succeeded, more than anyone I’ve ever known. And I’m really going to miss him.