Decency Personified

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I was mostly quiet yesterday. I simply couldn’t speak.

I’d pulled into the parking lot and was just about to run into the grocery store for a few errands when the text message dinged. I couldn’t process the words that Tommy Shewmaker died a few hours earlier. I didn’t even know Tommy was sick. I’m so ashamed. So broken.

It was as if I’d been punched in the heart. I sat there staring at the phone for 15 minutes as paralyzed as I can ever remember. At some point I walked into the grocery store, but couldn’t even remember why I was there.

He’d apparently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer around Thanksgiving as I was nearing the end of the Camino de Santiago. And he died about 50 days later. It was that fast. I’m devastated, but this isn’t about me.

In a world I fail to comprehend less and less each day, Tommy was one of those men I admired purely because his head was screwed on so straight. His decency surpassed all standards. He was radically good.

Everyone loved Tommy.

We met in 2010 during my short employment at a tech company where I was completely out of my league – a right-brained creative word guy in the midst of a bunch of left-brained geniuses. Tommy was one of them, but he was different. He was so very normal. I mean it as the highest compliment.

He loved his family. Spoke about them all the time. They were his single highest priority. He told great stories and had a voice I always thought belonged on radio. He loved the ribs I’d occasionally cook for a company lunch. Loved sports. Worked out almost every day.  Tommy was a lot of things. But mostly, he was just so kind and decent and normal. I loved that he was so normal. Blessed that he was so kind.

My father passed away about seven months after my hire. Tommy and I were good acquaintances – not close, do-things-together kind of buddies – but friends. Yet, not necessarily at that time the kind of friends who went out of their way for one another. So when from nowhere he walked up to embrace me at my father’s funeral I couldn’t have been more genuinely taken aback. It was Saturday, and Tommy lived 25 miles away. He’d gone exceedingly out of his way to comfort me. He just showed up. It’s one of the kindest gestures I can ever remember, yet so much more than simple gesture. It was an action from Tommy’s heart. He mourned for me. It’s incomprehensible that I mourn him today.

God, he was such a decent man.

When I left the company we stayed in touch. Tommy loved travel.

About this time last year, he wrote me with several questions about Ecuador and the experiences I’ve had living there off and on the last three years. He said he was thinking about retirement, albeit a few years away. He spoke of the responsibilities he had to family, especially his grandchildren, and yet his sense of adventure longed for parts unknown. He wanted to explore Latin America as a possible outpost for retirement, and making the most of his retirement dollars. It thrilled me to speak with him about it, and share my ideas. I mostly just enjoyed that it was Tommy.

We should make a point to get together and talk about it over a cold beer, I wrote. Come to my house … I’ll break out the grill for those ribs you love, I said. He agreed we would make the appointment to catch up and discuss our mutual interest in so many things.

That sit-down never happened. I never saw Tommy again. He crossed my mind a few days ago. I should give him a call, or write him a note, I thought, before moving on to the next “important” thing. Tommy was dying and I didn’t even know it. Now he’s gone.

As I lay in bed last night I couldn’t help but think how selfish it was to be so sad that Tommy’s gone. I know where he is. I should celebrate what he’s now experiencing this very minute. I wish I could hear him speak of it in that crystal-clear baritone voice with that laugh so genuine to the pit of his gut. You could hear Tommy laugh across the building. His joy was effusive.

He was a passionate servant to his family. Purely decent. Humble. Real.

Can there be a greater compliment to a man? I think not.

Rise high in Glory, Tommy Boy. I miss you.

Thank you for being my friend.

-30-

 

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13 thoughts on “Decency Personified

  1. 57 Isaiah 57:1-2 – (NIV) “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. 2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

    I am very sorry for your sorrow and for all who loved Tommy. I am thankful for his touch on no doubt countless lives. May he receive rest and the reward of the righteous. Praise God for the “Tommy’s” He graciously puts in our lives.

    Blessings! Mary

    >

  2. God bless your Friend and you for recognizing him. Time is guaranteed to no one so making the best use of it all the more important. Sounds like Tommy did in a way that made a difference and that is what I believe Jesus taught us. Make a positive difference through love and actions, however small you may think they are. As always, thank you Steve for your words.

  3. Thank you so much for the kind words about my father. My heart aches like I never knew was possible, but seeing this put a huge smile on my face. He will be missed, that much is certain. Thank you again, Mr. Watkins.

  4. Such a sweet and thoughtful tribute. I’m grateful to have seen it because it put my mind right about whether attending funerals for those you didn’t know personally really means something or not. I see now that it can have a great impact on those left to live without their loved ones. Thanks for sharing with us all.

  5. Dear Steve,
    Thank you for sharing about your friend and how he made a difference in your life! Love one another…simple but so often we let fear get in the way.
    Buen Camino Tommy!

  6. Beautiful tribute. Even though we know where they are, we still miss them and have some guilt, knowing that we ignored that still small voice to get in touch. I feel your pain.

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