“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn…”
“‘Mad to live.’ Those words by poet Jack Kerouac embodied James’s view on life and were eventually tattooed on his arm. They resonated deeply with James and helped push him towards the life he dreamed of living.
James seemed to have it all – in every measure of conventional success. He was in his late twenties, drove a nice SUV, worked at Apple, and had an up-scale apartment in Philadelphia. Many people would have traded places with him in an instant, but he felt something was lacking. James did not feel alive. When he looked around he saw his friends getting married, buying homes, having kids, and following the traditional dotted line. With a great sense of awareness, like many free spirits before him, he realized that he wanted to live a different life – a life that was inspiring to him. He was about to transform into a nomadic world traveler. Early in 2013, James’ disillusionment reached his limit and the urge to travel became too much. At the age of 28, James decided to quit his job and sell everything he had, including his Apple stock. He announced to his family and friends his desire to travel the world. His first trip was the most eye opening and profound experience that James had on his travels – The Camino de Santiago.
On his way to Iceland before the Camino he met a couple that had just recently been married. James impressed them so much with his positive energy and spirit that it inspired them to travel long after they met. This wasn’t just a one-time thing – James had a knack for inspiring those around him to aspire to their dreams. It’s a theme that would follow him everywhere. After a short trip to Iceland and France, James began his Camino alone from St. Jean de Pied Port.
For James, the experience was invigorating from the start. The simplistic lifestyle on the Camino was everything he hoped it would be, and more. His boyish curiosity stood in awe of the ancient Spanish architecture and the history that he was walking through. He phoned home often, giddy with stories from the day. Whether it was a story of walking in front of a shorter lady to protect her from driving rain, or getting into a town whose albergues were all full and being allowed to sleep in the back of a bar, James embraced each day with open arms.
James was right at home on the Camino. I joked that James walked the Camino specifically because it is the historical Way of Saint James, but in reality he did it as a spiritual journey – one that allowed him to get away from the rat race which he didn’t find fulfilling, and rather to connect to a different way of living. One that exposed him to the best things that humanity and the world have to offer.
Early on, James met Mark from England – a guy that James called his English doppelganger. They spent the majority of the walk together. There was an unspoken bond and understanding between them. James formed a core group of five friends, including Mark, during his time on the Camino, that spent a lot of intimate moments together and built some very strong bonds. James cherished these connections, and his energetic spirit rubbed off on everyone along the way. The camaraderie, generosity, and unconditional support that James witnessed daily touched him deeply. He found that everyone had a story and a reason for walking the Camino, but that the sameness of their path brought them all together.
He wrote, ‘Within days of starting our pilgrimages, we met people of all ages from many different countries. We also found: some had prepared, some hadn’t; some carried huge rucksacks, some had almost nothing on their backs; some were shy, some outgoing; some believed in God, some didn’t; some were happy, some sad; some had changed their lives, others liked life as it was. We met people who had lost partners, and couples walking with their children; some who had experienced broken hearts, and many who were falling in love with life. We all walked the same road and when we got to Santiago Cathedral there was a place for each of us. Every one.’
After the Camino James’s travels took him to Madrid, Barcelona, France, and Italy where he worked on a farm in Tuscany. He would later visit Rome before he returned home. He had caught the travel bug and was ready for more. Southeast Asia drew his allure through it’s far-off location and affordability. James prepared himself for his trip to Southeast Asia as well as you could getting vaccinated and schooled in where he was going. His excitement for this trip can be seen through his blog. Taking his vivacious spirit to Thailand, he set off on another adventure that included buying a motorbike and riding up the length of the Vietnamese coast… he’d never ridden one before! Unfortunately, this trip did not go as planned. While in a remote part of Cambodia, James became ill with flu-like symptoms, but this was no ordinary flu. On the following day, James collapsed while walking down the street and tragically never recovered. The doctors there were unable to save his life and his cause of death was never identified.
James passed living the life that he wanted to live. He stood for living in the present, embracing those around with love, and not settling for a life without deeper meaning. James may be gone, but his spirit and zest for life will never be forgotten. His funeral was attended by many people from across the world that he impacted over his travels – including his ‘Camino Five’ and even the married couple he met on the way to Iceland, when he had truly first set off on the road.
James Hart appreciated how short life really is and wanted to make the most of it. He would not be content living a life that he was not fulfilled by. He leaves behind thousands of inspired people that are now Mad to Live.”
-Donna Hart, in loving memory of James “Jimmy” Hart, USA