Good man

His business was feeding people. I don’t know how he fed so many. I’m not sure anyone knows. He was persuasive, cheerful, and fearless. He talked bankers into giving him money. He talked restaurants into donating food. He talked my neighbors into working early in the morning, for free, to feed the homeless, the hungry – to feed anyone who came.

I knew him because I lived in his town. He found me, like he found everybody, just walking down the street one day. I avoided him, once I knew him, because I knew what he would do. He would start talking about the weather, or childhood, or my wife (he talked my wife into making lunches for the homeless, he talked my son into entertaining them on piano while they ate). He would talk and the good mood would be infectious and pretty soon he’d be asking me to spend some time helping somebody. That’s what he did.

Not everyone wants to feed the homeless. A lot of people with resources think it’s the wrong thing to do. They occupy city councils, police departments, and county governments, and he would talk to them, too. He would make speeches. He would go public. He would downright embarrass them, if he could, into giving him some place to serve his meals. Often enough, he made it work. Many public persons are plain scared of the homeless. To them he pointed out: all of us are considerably less dangerous on a full stomach.

He was a mystery to me. I knew him only by what he did. He might have been a really freaky guy, in some hidden way. He believed aliens abducted people and returned them as changed beings, devoted to serving others. Perhaps he thought he had been abducted, himself. Perhaps he had been. But there he was, everywhere, relaxed, smiling, talkative, just meeting with people on the street. I could never figure out where he found time to accomplish the huge amount he did. He put together a local organization with no purpose but serving the helpless. He called it Divine Spark. He was our public conscience.

Most of us come and go. We matter in the hearts and minds of a few people, then we disappear. Tomas unloaded his free supplies at a reservation in South Dakota, got into his empty van and drove back through a snowstorm in Wyoming; slipped up somehow and died on the highway. I never felt a man’s absence like this before. He allowed us to think our own neglect is okay, really, because somebody else is taking care of it. Tomas is taking care of it. We have plenty of suffering human beings in our town. Who, I wonder, will all of us look to now?

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