Saturday, May 21, 2011


Our house was directly across the street from the clinic entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore . We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to out-patients at the clinic.
One summer evening as I was fixing supper, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see a truly awful looking man. "Why, he's hardly taller than my 8-year-old," I thought as I stared at the stooped, shriveled body. But the appalling thing was his face, lopsided from swelling, red and raw.
Yet his voice was pleasant as he said, "Good evening. I've come to see if you've a room for just one night. I came for a treatment this morning from the eastern shore, and there's no bus 'til morning."
He told me he'd been hunting for a room since noon but with no success, no one seemed to have a room. "I guess it's my face .... I know it looks terrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments .."
For a moment I hesitated, but his next words convinced me: "I could sleep in this rocking chair on the porch. My bus leaves early in the morning."
I told him we would find him a bed, but to rest on the porch.. I went inside and finished getting supper. When we were ready, I asked the old man if he would join us. "No, thank you. I have plenty." And he held up a brown paper bag.
When I had finished the dishes, I went out on the porch to talk with him a few minutes. It didn't take a long time to see that this old man had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told me he fished for a living to support his daughter, her 5 children, and her husband, who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury.
He didn't tell it by way of complaint; in fact, every other sentence was preface with a thanks to God for a blessing. He was grateful that no pain accompanied his disease, which was apparently a form of skin cancer. He thanked God for giving him the strength to keep going...
At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children's room for him. When I got up in the morning, the bed linens were neatly folded and the little man was out on the porch.
He refused breakfast, but just before he left for his bus, haltingly, as if asking a great favor, he said, "Could I please come back and stay the next time I have a treatment? I won't put you out a bit. I can sleep fine in a chair." He paused a moment and then added, "Your children made me feel at home. Grownups are bothered by my face, but children don't seem to mind."
I told him he was welcome to come again.
And, on his next trip, he arrived a little after 7 in the morning. As a gift, he brought a big fish and a quart of the largest oysters I had ever seen! He said he had shucked them that morning before he left so that they'd be nice and fresh. I knew his bus left at 4:00 a.m. And I wondered what time he had to get up in order to do this for us.
In the years he came to stay overnight with us, there was never a time that he did not bring us fish or oysters or vegetables from his garden.
Other times we received packages in the mail, always by special delivery; fish and oysters packed in a box of fresh young spinach or kale, every leaf carefully washed. Knowing that he must walk 3 miles to mail these, and knowing how little money he had made the gifts doubly precious.
When I received these little remembrances, I often thought of a comment our next-door neighbor made after he left that first morning.
"Did you keep that awful looking man last night? I turned him away! You can lose roomers by putting up such people!"
Maybe we did lose roomers once or twice. But, oh!, if only they could have known him, perhaps their illnesses would have been easier to bear.
I know our family always will be grateful to have known him; from him we learned what it was to accept the bad without complaint and the good with gratitude to God.
Recently I was visiting a friend, who has a greenhouse, as she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, "If this were my plant, I'd put it in the loveliest container I had!"
My friend changed my mind. "I ran short of pots," she explained, "and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn't mind starting out in this old pail. It's just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden."
She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly, but I was imagining just such a scene in heaven.
"Here's an especially beautiful one," God might have said when he came to the soul of the sweet old fisherman. "He won't mind starting in this small body."
All this happened long ago - and now, in God's garden, how tall this lovely soul must stand.
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b)
Friends are very special. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear and they share a word of praise. Show your friends how much you care. Pass this on, and brighten someone's day.
Nothing will happen if you do not decide to pass it along. The only thing that will happen if you DO pass it on is that someone might smile (because of you).



JustinO'Shea said...

Gary Kelly has left a new comment on your post "A Nice Story":

I really got caught up in that story, and made a grab for the tissues, but I was disappointed when the God bit came into the picture. It's as though we non-believers are excluded from being nice simply because we just wanna be nice! According to the story, there's gotta be a God factor involved if you wanna be nice.

JustinO'Shea said...

Gary, no one is excluding you from "being nice" but yourself. The one who wrote this happens to believe in God as many of us do. . . .She needs to bring God into her life-story. . .
Cool. It is HER story.

I bring The Dunes, Provincetown, psychology, Peter into my story because these are part of my story. . .so is God. . .which, dear friend, is far more than some nice la-la fantasy. . as Mr Brilliant from the other day so forcibly opinions! ;-)

By the by, it must be way beyond 6 p.m. your time zone Saturday. . .hehe. . .were you 'raptured', did the 'end of the world happen'? I heard the Raptures were spaced into the various time zones around the world. . . nice. Are you still here on terra firma, 'in the land of the living'?

I certainly hope so! I enjoy having you around. Hang in there, Boyo !


J said...

This story revived one of the most disturbing memories I have from childhood. My mother was driving home from a weekend trip with three children not in their teens in a station wagon with a lot of junk in the rear. We were on a two lane highway in rural Virginia. Standing beside the road was an elderly black couple dressed in what appeared to be their Sunday best, which was obviously threadbare. I remember the man was wearing a double-breasted suit, and he had a fedora in his right hand that he extended straight out to the roadway. They were hitchhiking. It was an unforgetably striking tableau. Their faces, worn as their clothes, were open and guileless, and they obviously had summoned up all the dignity they possessed to make themselves appealing to passersby. I immediately asked my mother to stop and give them a lift. She responded that she would if she had more space in the car, and drove by. Ever since that day I've regretted what happened, and wondered if someone behind us had stopped and made room.

JustinO'Shea said...

Now, J , had you happened into my office and we were sitting gabbing and you told me what the 'nice story' evoked in you. . . my inner therapist would want to suggest we have a chat about this "passing" disturbing memory. . . how you felt about this and about the people in the car. You told us how you felt about the couple on the side of the road. . . and then I'd suggest you might want to look at how this disturbing memory has affected your reactions to people in similar circumstances. . .

But I'd be too polite to actually do this unless invited to do so. .
.That would be "walking in where angels fear to tread."

[angels. . .'o avggeloi. .aka disembodied spirits, la-la fantacies, etc ] ;-)

Gary Kelly said...

That's a very moving story, J. And I think it explains a lot about you, and what you became... a lawyer helping others in need... picking up hitchhikers and giving them a lift.

J said...

I'm no angel, Gary, although it's true that at times I've helped people without cost who are being jerked around by authority figures, whether they were in the government or at the apogee of "society". Saints don't live well, and I like to live well. Your garden variety unfortunate will not be represented my me unless he pays the fee in advance or ponies up a retainer and enough money in escrow to cover future bills and costs. In my prosecutorial days I sent many miscreants to jail or prison, and sometimes to their deaths by lethal injection. I've lost no sleep over it, because these people were sociopaths who had no feelings for anyone but themselves. Can you reconcile this personality with that of the kid who was so sensitive he would be profoundly affected by that episode on the road? All I can say is that like all children I was forced to grow up. If it's any consolation, I would stop to pick that couple up today, and I can assure you they would arrive in style.
Now Father O'Shea, you pose interesting questions, which I will only answer in your psychiatric confessional, just so long as it isn't a Skinnerian Box.


It was during WWII, and my mom and
dad were driving from, Detroit to
Springfield Ill, for his mom's funeral. He picked up 2 sailors
in Indiana. We took them a good
ways. He always gave what little he had. Plowed an acre with a horse, and
planted it every year, and gave
bushels of his garden vegetables away to the Convent. I learned much from him and my mom.
She (a widow) was the only one working, and neighbor was out of work, she got enough money together to give them a duck and
rest of meal for Thanksgiving.
They both gave what they really didn't have much of. I picked up
family after work in Orlando, there
were 5 or 6, put them into the back
and front of my old Nova, tried to find
a place for them to stay, gave them
my last 7.00, and wanted to take
them home, know wife would go
off her rocker. I always felt
guilty that I didn't do more for
them. The same when I had to be
somewhere, and had seen a man and
wife and small baby, hitchhiking and guilt never lets you forget those moments. I think I am beating my
self up when I wish I had done more. Guilt is a never ending
trip that never goes away in the
above realm of Life.
Just a few of the things along
Life's Highway. May He have Mercy
on Me!!!

JCinmeforever said...

Thank you for posting this once again inspires to the point that even the rusted, not so quick, not so smart, or older, can be a shining beacon for God...directly or indirectly...we never know how God is going to inspire and use an encouraging word. It may give the one that may be less than what the world thinks is valuable, encouragement to carry on.

'Be the light'... JCinmeforever

Gary Kelly said...

Skinnerian box? I had to look it up.

With this apparatus, experimenters perform studies in conditioning and training through reward/punishment mechanisms.

Anyway, J, don't gimme that shit about your not being an angel. It's true that you're a reluctant angel, and your halo is a bit tarnished and lopsided, but you can't fool me. I've known you way too long. Hehe.

J said...

I have known you for quite a while, Mr. Kelly, but there is balm in Gilead for all of us in this short life.