Our residence was direct across the street from the entrance of a well-known city hospital. We lived downstairs and rented out the clinic’s upstairs rooms to outpatients. One summer evening, as I was preparing dinner, there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, I was greeted by a genuinely hideous-looking man.
“He’s barely taller than my eight-year-old,” I thought as I glanced at the stooped, shriveled frame. But the worst part was his face, which was asymmetrical from swelling, red, and raw. “Good evening,” he remarked in a friendly tone. I’ve come to check if you have a room available for just one night. I arrived from the eastern side for therapy this morning, and there’s no transportation till the morning.”
He informed me he’d been looking for a place since noon, but no one appeared to have any available. “I suppose it’s my face.” I know it looks bad, but my doctor thinks it will improve with a few more treatments…”
I hesitated for a while, but then he said, “I could sleep in this rocking chair on the porch.” “My bus departs at 5:00 a.m.” So I told him we’d find him a bed but he could sleep on the porch.
I went inside and finished preparing supper. When we were set, I asked the old man if he wanted to come with us. “No, please.” “I have a lot.” He also held up a brown paper bag. I walked out on the porch after I finished the dishes to chat with him for a few minutes.
It didn’t take long to see that this older man had a big heart crowded into a little body. He said that he fished for a living to support his daughter, her five children, and her husband, who was paralyzed from a back injury.
He didn’t say it to complain; in fact, every other statement was prefaced with a prayer of gratitude to God for a blessing. He was thankful that his illness, a kind of skin cancer, did not cause him any discomfort. He praised God for providing him with the strength to continue.
We installed a camp cot in the children’s room for him at bedtime. When I awoke in the morning, the bed linens had been nicely folded, and the tiny guy had gone out on the porch. He rejected breakfast, but shortly before leaving for his bus, he said, haltingly, “Could I please come back and stay the next time I have a treatment? I won’t bother you in the least. I can sleep very well in a chair.”
“Your children made me feel at home,” he said after a little pause. My look bothers adults, but children don’t seem to notice.” I told him he was welcome to come back any time.
He came a little after seven o’clock in the morning on his next visit. As a present, he gave a giant fish and a quart of the biggest oysters I’d ever seen. He claimed to have shucked them that morning before leaving so they’d be nice and fresh. I knew his bus left at 4:00 a.m., and I was curious how early he had to wake up to do this for us.
There was never a time when he didn’t bring us fish, oysters, or veggies from his garden when he came to stay with us for the night. Other times, we got parcels in the mail, usually by special delivery; fish and oysters packaged in a box of fresh young spinach or kale, each leaf meticulously cleaned.
Knowing he had to travel three kilometers to send these and how little money he had made the presents much more valuable. When I got these mementos, I was reminded of a remark made by our next-door neighbor when he departed 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 a couple of roomers. But, oh! If they had known him, perhaps their sicknesses would have been easier to bear. I know our family will be eternally grateful to have known him; through him, we learned to take the bad without complaint and the good with thanks.
I was recently visiting a buddy who owns a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most gorgeous one of all, a golden chrysanthemum exploding with blooms. But, to my amazement, it was growing in an old, dented, rusted bucket. “If this were my plant,” I reasoned, “I’d place it in the prettiest pot I owned!”
“I was out of pots,” she explained, “and knowing how lovely this one would be, I figured it wouldn’t mind starting in this old pail.” So it’s only for a short time till I can put it out in the garden.”
She must have wondered why I was laughing so loudly, but I pictured a similar scene in heaven. When God arrived at the soul of the gentle old fisherman, he might have thought, “Here’s a wonderful one.” “He won’t mind beginning in such a little body.”