by Pam Seale
I remember the first time I met our old neighbor Tom. Walt had already met him. The two of us were walking home from Starbuck’s down on 11th Street and he was walking toward us. Tom walked at least seven miles a day I’d been told. He was scary to me: an elderly white man, unkept, with layers of old dirty clothes, and tinted, large eyeglasses from the 1970’s. You couldn’t tell where his facial hair stopped and his head of hair began. It was all just an uncut unshaven mess. He asked us if we were coming from the free breakfast place. He was holding a bag and was going to get some for himself. Different worlds, Starbucks and a food kitchen.
Tom started stopping by the house to chat. The relationship was a slow grow. When Walt was busy, we’d sit in the living room and I’d listen as Tom talked. Life had been hard. He married a black woman when it wasn’t acceptable. He told the story of his wife's death every time he came over. He never talked about his two sons’ deaths. That I heard about from the missionaries. Violence. Drugs. Bad living. Bad endings. Tom had dealt with his life full of pain with alcohol. Now he was alone with his house which was unkept with rodents living upstairs and rain falling in the living room when it rained. His appearance wasn’t much better. But that didn’t matter to me anymore. I saw Christ. I saw his pain. It didn’t matter how much of it he’d caused. It was there. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body and was quite an entertaining story teller.
We saw less of Tom in the summer months when Action was here. Then Jack Busekrus went and sat on his porch with him. He later told us, Tom was afraid to come near our property because he thought we were running a juvenile delinquent summer program. All those tee shirts made him think prisoners!
For seven years he called the shots. He came to us when he wanted to and wouldn’t come if we invited him, which we did. The first time I sent him over food, he told Walt, “You’ll have to tell your wife I live alone. She sent over a whole loaf of banana bread and it almost killed me!” Oh, yes. Tom made you laugh. He had a dry wit and it was one way he revealed himself little by little.
Tom had a love and respect for our sisters in household. He brought them flowers from his bushes and told them they could come and take his blossoms to decorate their table with anytime. Once he came to tell Walt about a man parked outside on our street. He was concerned for the women’s safety. He’d become our protector.
The last couple of years Tom’s mind started failing. He started coming for Walt for more needs. He’d lock himself out of the house or he couldn’t get his car started. He couldn’t understand bills that came in the mail. We helped him as we would any brother.
Our last help for him was to organize a family meeting. Tom’s sister and daughter came to our home. Tom agreed to sell his house and move into an apartment for his own good. He didn’t want to live with anyone or get medical care. It was bittersweet when he left, but it was how Tom wanted it. Living alone. No doctors. No nursing homes. We saw him in December. He stopped by for a chat. He weighed a little less, but everything else was the same. Last week I got a call that he passed alone in his apartment. It was just what he wanted. No fanfare. Reunited with his family.
It doesn’t sound like an average mission story, but Tom, Walt and I would never have met if we didn’t move into this neighborhood. I would have missed seeing Christ in him. And Tom? Without pride, but just gratitude to a God who orchestrates such things, Tom got to have more of Christ loving him in the flesh because the Body of Christ had moved into his neighborhood.