Jay Edwin Hurley, Jr.
July 10, 1941 to December 3, 2017
hat has come to me today, and to all of us, is the unexpected, unwelcome and, frankly, impossible task somehow to punctuate the end of my brother’s life with a statement of what his life meant to us—unexpected, for me, because even though I knew Jay was not well and hadn’t been well for a long time, I never imagined this day would come so soon. Jay was only 76 years old. To some that may seem a ripe old age, but not to me. Jay and I shared a father who, despite a disastrously destructive lifestyle that would have killed most men a dozen times over, lived longer than his eldest son. Jay died almost two decades younger than our Grandfather Hurley, who was born into poverty in England in a century that did not know penicillin or most of the vaccines we take for granted today. My brother died many years sooner than did our mother, and her mother before her.
I don’t mention this as a shortcoming to find fault with Jay somehow for not giving us more of himself. The truth is, I’m a bit angry with God. I have been a trial attorney for most of my life. I rarely lost a case and it never rested easy with me when I did. I was also not over fond of judges, but when things didn’t go my way I made my objection and yielded gracefully to the judgment of the court, as every lawyer must do. I lost my appeal to God about Jay, and I take exception to that decision. I wish here and now to note my objection for the record to the judgment of heaven that Jay should have left us so soon. One day I’ll have a hearing with the Almighty, because this world is not the court of last resort. My day before the throne of heaven will come, and when it does, I intend to ask the judge of us all why Jay’s time on Earth could not have been a bit longer, a bit easier, and his burden a bit lighter. I am looking forward to his explanation, because as scripture teaches, now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.
Now, all we can do is yield gracefully to the judgment of heaven, but there is a benefit to us in doing so. We whom Jay has left behind should abandon any delusion that, somehow, the progress of medical science has made life something other than what it has always been: temporary and precarious and often unfair. Life remains as it ever was: a precious gift, not a guarantee.
And so if I may, I would like to take a few moments to share some sense of the gift that was given to me in the life of Jay Edwin Hurley, Jr.
I came here literally straight off the boat—by that I mean a sailboat of course, in Antigua, the West Indies, and I have Jay to thank for that. I am so grateful that Jay lived to see his little brother cross the Atlantic in a good old boat. I am so grateful that I got to send him a letter from a foreign port of call enclosed with the flag that had flown from my rigging. Jay didn’t just teach me to sail when I was a boy. He did something much more important. He infected me with an incurable wanderlust for sailing. I remember well the day when I succumbed to this disease. He and I were out in Chesapeake Bay in a nineteen-foot sloop he had rented by the hour on the South River, and suddenly there was nothing on the horizon—no limit, nothing stopping us. Nothing but water and time. And I looked down into the small cabin and imagined that if we stuffed a duffle in there filled with food and water, we could just keep going. Little did either of us know then that one day, I would do just that.
Jay was very different from me in many ways. He had a math-science brain. I did not. He was always the go-to guy in our family to fix anything—the TV, the car, the radio—whatever. He could build things, too, including boats. He was a science and technology geek. I was at his house once in the seventies when he came to me with something tiny in his hand. When I asked what it was, he said, “This is the reason the Russians will never catch us.” It was a silicon chip at the dawn of the age of microcomputers. Unlike my brother, I was confounded by math and mechanics. I loved music and writing, but the great thing about sailing is that it’s poetry and music in motion. I loved the romance of sailing. When I grew up, I bought my first sailboat before I bought my first house. Sailing became the language Jay and I could always speak together, and a way to understand each other. Since that day on the South River and many other days like it that he and I spent together, I have sailed thousands of miles. Jay I don’t believe ever sailed more than 28 miles from home, but that didn’t matter. We spoke the same language, and I would not have seen a single one of those thousands of miles were it not for him.
I looked up to Jay, and not just because he was an inch taller and sixteen years older. Sometimes he would speak so softly that you could barely hear him, and I never knew why he was like that, but in remembering his life it occurred to me that in all those years I don’t think I ever asked him to speak up. I just listened harder. I never corrected him. I never wanted to change or improve him. I wanted Jay to be Jay, and to succeed just the way he was. In his quietness he had an authority that I respected, and others did too. At my wedding reception in 1981 there were probably a dozen buddies of mine—big guys—who had carried me off in my tuxedo and were getting ready to throw me in the pool. Jay stopped them with a look and a word, and they dropped me like a rock.
Perhaps he should have let them throw me in. When my marriage ended badly twenty-five years later, there were a lot of people who were surprised and disappointed in me, some of whom weren’t talking to me, even in my own family. I remember my failings as a husband being hashed over at one family gathering, when Jay interrupted the conversation and said, in a mocking tone, “Off with his head!” In that one outburst, he took the criticism to an absurd extreme to demonstrate the absurdity of nurturing feelings of spite toward the people who are our flesh and blood. He was reminding everyone of the obvious: “This is Mike. He’s our family. Of course we’re not going to turn our back on him, so let it go.” Jay never judged me for my failures—not once, even when I managed to capsize and snap off the mast of his boat while he was away on his honeymoon with Donna. He gave me some advice, instead. It was one of his favorite sayings whenever I would get ready to leave. “Keep the shiny side up,” he would say. These were words of wisdom that applied to boats, cars, motorcycles, and life. It meant, do your best to stay right side up, and keep going.
That’s what he would tell me today, if he could, and what he would say to all of us. I intend to do my best to remember that advice, and to follow it in his honor. To Jay, I offer a prayer for fair winds and following seas, and to God I give thanks for the brother he gave to me, and for the time we had together. Amen.