Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. ~ Philip Brooks
You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ~ Anonymous
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. ~ William Makepeace Thackeray
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I STILL TALK TO HIM
I’ve seen him around from time to time. To be honest, I’ve never paid him much mind. I kinda thought he was maybe a few pieces short of a puzzle because he quite often appeared to be talking to… no one. But he’s obviously seen me around as well. And despite having never formally introduced ourselves to each other, somehow he knew who I was.
It was last Thursday, DQ Miracle Treat Day. I was doing my best to be helpful while also trying to stay out of the way of the other volunteers and staff that were far better at serving the public than I. I decided to go outside and take some photos of folks going through the drive thru, doing their best to support the Children’s Hospital by ordering ice cream. On this day each year, it’s not uncommon for folks to hand over a $20 bill for a $4 ice cream and say, “Keep the change and give it to the Children’s Hospital.” It is definitely one of my favourite community events each year as, despite the very long line-ups, people wait patiently and show incredible courtesy to each other, knowing that they are all contributing to the success of a very worthy cause.
As I turned the corner to go back into the restaurant, I saw him, sitting on the curb, chatting away while he enjoyed his ice cream. He looked up and caught me staring. He looked me right in the eye, so there was no way I could possibly pretend I didn’t see him. I smiled awkwardly. He smiled back and asked, “Where’s your ice cream, Mr. Jones?” I laughed and pointed to my generous waistline and replied, “In here, and I’ll probably add to it several times before the day is over.”
He introduced himself, and we began to chat. “I think I make you uncomfortable, don’t I?” he asked.
“What makes you think that?” I countered, knowing he was probably right.
“I see you around town all of the time, and I get the feeling you avoid me,” he replied.
He put me on the spot. There was absolutely nothing I could quickly think of to explain my behavior towards him other than the truth. So I nervously did just that. I stammered out the truth. “I don’t mean to judge and I mean no disrespect. But I quite often see you talking to yourself. Not just mouthing words, either. You actually talk out loud when there’s nobody there.”
He smiled, “I’m not talking to myself. I’m talking to my son.” Then he explained.
“One of the great things about becoming a father is that it changes you for the better. It forces you to be responsible. It forces you to act in the presence of your child, as you hope they will act. It is virtually impossible, not to become a better man once you become a father. My son made me a better man. But I lost him fifteen years ago. He was twelve years old. He was a great kid. Healthy and strong with the exception of an allergy to nuts. We were very careful to never have any nuts around. And he was very aware of his allergy and careful to avoid anything with nuts.”
He stopped talking for a couple minutes as he struggled to maintain his composure. He took a deep breath and continued. “We were camping. We made friends with some folks in the next campsite. They had a son about the same age as mine, and quickly became buddies. When evening came, we all sat around the campfire and the boys made s’mores. After a while, my son was feeling a little queasy and went off to bed. I didn’t think anything of it. I figured he was just tired and maybe ate a little too much junk food. I too went to bed a few hours later.”
He stopped talking for a few minutes as he fought his emotions. Then he continued, “I awoke the next morning and he was gone. Turns out the chocolate bars the boys used to make s’mores had nuts in them. I couldn’t get rid of the guilt of not recognizing the symptoms… of not checking the labels of the chocolate bars… Of not checking on him before I went to sleep. I took to drinking heavily to numb the pain. I became angry at the world. I lost my job and almost lost my wife. But one day, she fought it out with me. And one loud comment yelled out in pain is all it took to turn me around. She screamed at me, “Is this how you would have taught our son how to handle life?” Then she slammed the door as she left.”
“It took me a while to get off of the bottle. And I’m perfectly aware that lots of folks think I’m crazy. Who knows? Maybe I am. But I’m not talking to myself. I’m talking to my son. I still share the great things in life with him. Like eating ice cream on a hot day,” he said with a smile as he held up his now melted ice cream. “And even my wife says she thinks I’m a better man when I talk to him than when I was feeling sorry for myself at the bottom of a bottle.