Intro: It has been over three months and yet it still seems just as surreal. Jed was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He had the kind of silly spirit that could get the Deacon to lose his spot in the prayer book and make an overpacked funeral home await the start of his rosary only to have Siri pipe up to give the service some direction. There aren’t many rosaries that begin with laughter, but it wouldn’t have been a true tribute to him without it. Although I didn’t know Jed for a long time, he left such a solid impression on my life. If he could do that in just the couple of times we were together, I can’t imagine what it must be like for his family and long time friends. Here’s my testimony to you, Jed. Fly high, friend.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” This is what I have to say: Out of all the pebbles of people I’ve met in my life, Jed Toups was one of those rare gems whose pure soul gave you a glimpse of truth and faith.
On May 5, 2015, after a day of teaching The Great Gatsby to my American Literature students, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that Jed had passed away in an unexpected crop dusting accident. The details were as short as my breath. Scenes flashed through my head as I nearly drove into a ditch. I immediately thought of his young wife who was seven months pregnant and their three young children.
I knew the news was new because it was hours before Facebook flooded with condolences. A “GoFundMe” account was created by one of his wife’s classmates and within 24 hours nearly $30,000 was raised. As we waited to hear more details, the reflection and processing began. I retrieved the memory of when I first met Jed.
It was around 10 years ago when my sister , who owns a salon, called me to see if I would be interested in going on a blind date with one of her clients. He had just moved to my small hometown of Rayne and was trying to open a unique stained glass company and was in need of someone to go to his other work’s Christmas party. I lived in Lafayette and was in the height of my free-spirited journey, so I said I would be open to meeting him.
I heard the big red Ford diesel truck drive into the apartment complex from my third floor apartment. I was an activist and rode my bike most places to save carbon footprints. I opened the door to find a man with Wranglers, a Cowboy hat, and a smile from ear to ear. He was seriously jovial.
We decided to keep things casual and went to Jason’s Deli where we sat in a booth for hours and talked about our pasts. I learned he was one of six children and was the only boy. He had also lost a sister in a tragic car accident. I couldn’t understand how someone who had experienced such heart ache could still be so at peace. I was attempting to work through a break-up from a three-year relationship and he listened patiently and compassionately. By the end of the evening, he asked if I would feel comfortable enough to go to his Christmas party and I agreed to join him the following week.
We arrived at the Hilton where we were flooded with coworkers who raved about Jed. Every person whose hand I shook couldn’t wait to tell me about how fantastic he was. It’s almost like there was a contest to see who had the better compliment. At this point I have to insert the not so complimentary part about myself. My ex was texting me that night and the fact that I wanted to return a message made me feel utterly guilty. After the party, I was upfront with Jed about the situation. I had received the “friend” talk so many times before, and I dreaded that I was the one giving the speech this time. He was completely sincere that I was honest with him. With a simple hug goodbye we parted ways and I didn’t hear from him for another six months.
It was a random weekday in June and I received a random invitation. Jed had received a call from one of his glass suppliers in North Carolina. It was a small company and they had a shipment come in and wanted to give Jed first dibs. Usually his aunt would make the drive with him, but she could not. When he was thinking of someone who would be up for a random adventure, he had thought of me. He promised that this was an innocent gesture and that we would drive straight there and back. He needed an answer within the hour because we would leave that afternoon.
I consulted with my roommate and she asked if I thought he was a trustworthy guy. Without hesitation I said yes. From a journalistic point of view, I thought it would be cool to learn about stained glass, see a new city, and take a road trip. I called him back and within a few hours he had scooped me up in the big red Ford.
When we made it to outside of Greensboro, he let me take his truck into town while he searched through the frames. I went scout the town for a few hours and then returned to sift through their shop. I went through some of the flea market items and found a pack of Tarot cards that seemed pretty interesting. We packed up his trailer securely and thanked the couple for their hospitality and then continued back to Louisiana. In between eating Subway and reading the pamphlet describing what each card in the deck stood for, “Hey Jude” by the Beatles came on. I expressed how much I loved the song and he claimed that he had never heard of it.
I was singing loudly to pretty much stay awake and after it was over he lowered the radio and said, “I hope you don’t take offense to this,” I waited to see if I would smack him, “but I think it’s going to be a while before you find anyone around here.”
“What? Why?” I retorted sharply.
“Well, I don’t understand half of the words that come out of your mouth and you just think so differently. It’s not a bad thing at all. I just don’t know if you’ll find someone in Louisiana.”
I let his words sink in. He wasn’t wrong at all. And he wasn’t trying to be mean. I remembered how he was genuine when I spoke honestly to him half a year before, and respected his honesty now.
We drove a few more hours and the lack of sleep was starting to wear him out. He didn’t want to risk me driving with thousands of dollars worth of antique glass attached to the Ford and asked if we could stop to sleep in a hotel. Being in your 20s and having a man ask you to stay in a hotel room usually insinuates one thing. He noticed my hesitation and promised that this was strictly for us to sleep – separately. He firmly asked the desk clerk for two beds and kept his promise. Before he went to sleep, he got on his knees to pray. I was awestruck. I had never seen someone do this since childhood. I was impressed and intimidated. At this point in my life I had considered myself spiritual, but did not practice the Catholic faith I had been raised to know. This action solidified to me why he was so peaceful and exuded this sense of joy.
We awoke the next morning and finished the last leg into Louisiana. The talks were short, but encouraging. He dropped me off at my house and we bid farewell with a hug and gratitude for the adventure. It was the last time we really spoke.
He was correct about the time frame for me to find someone. It was five years before I met my husband, who was from Oregon—and we met through a blind date situation. As I reflect upon this now, I realize I may not have been so open to the introduction had my first set-up been horrible.
Jed was fortunate in his quest for love because it wasn’t long after the road trip when he met his wife. And if I thought he was happy when I met him, I was mistaken. For when I saw him with her, he could have lit up New York City brighter than the fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. They both radiated a loving light that no one could deny. They exemplified why you should wait for true love.
As I watched glimpses of their life via Facebook, I was always inspired by their dedication to each other and to their family. Their sacrifices were more than most could make and their attitudes were better than most could achieve.
Maybe we all just get glimpses of truth and pure love through one another. Sometimes it’s more rare than we’d like. I just wanted to capture in words that I saw it and recognized it in Jed. His death is tragic, but his life was not. How many of us will be able to say that when it was our time to transition to our original state that we were doing what fueled our passions? Jed longed to fly and be with his family. On that morning, he was flying over his home ground knowing that his family was near.
What’s hardest for me to consider is that I never told Jed how much I respected him. I didn’t really understand just how much he impacted my life until I had to pause and reflect the path I took after our encounter. It’s like Fitzgerald wrote about Gatsby’s death, “Let us to learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead…”.
He’s not gone completely. We will see glimpses of him through those four beautiful children. We will give them glimpses of him through our stories, so they can get to know their wonderful father. And when a crop duster nearly blinds you with their wings, look and listen for Jed. He’ll be there within the wind, giving us glimpses of heaven.
Feel free to share your glimpses of him, so together we can create more than just a glimpse.
Update (8/16/15) : The “GoFundMe” account has raised $53,296. His wife successfully delivered a healthy baby girl. Prayers are definitely still welcomed and appreciated.