I first met Robert last fall at the park. My family and I go up on Sunday
evenings to a “family picnic” in the park for folks in need. We take sweet tea
and the fixin’s for hot chocolate (and yes in this kind of heat, we are still
serving hot chocolate!) and our friend brings coffee and ice water. I don’t
remember how Robert and I started up our conversation that first time but it
soon moved to books…..we’re both fans of John Grisham. I had just read his
book for teens, “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.” It was a great book. Robert had
not read or heard of it. I sent him a copy the following week. And I didn’t
see Robert again for a while.
I found out from the organizer Donna that
Robert was in jail. Wrong place, wrong time. She encouraged me to write him.
This was new for me, a bit out of my comfort zone. But I felt like it was
something I was being called to do. So I did. A rather awkward how are you,
don’t know if you remember me kind of note that first time. Thank goodness we
had the books to talk about. We soon were writing regularly though, and I’d
send jokes or funny or inspirational stories I’d print out and put in with my
letters. When spring approached, I wrote him that I was asked to bring sweet
tea for the first time and how nervous I was making it in five gallon batches.
I was at the hospital with my Daddy when the call came from Donna’s cell phone.
It was Robert, “I’m out. It’s over. They dropped the charges. I’ll see you
Sunday and I’m going to try that tea!” It was a joyful moment.
first Sunday we shared a hug and some books. He drank the tea and declared it
delicious. When one of the younger guys made a sarcastic comment about
it, Robert told me to ignore him and then “straightened” him out with a tongue
lashing. Robert told everyone how good it was and that I had made it. I didn’t
deserve the praise (I’ll admit the recipe needed some tweaking), but it made me
smile that Robert was back and so happy to be there.
Last Sunday we had
quite a crowd. The good people bringing the meal brought sandwiches and pasta
salad and desserts. Folks had seconds and some even had thirds, which was a
blessing considering the heat and the size of the crowd. They shared some for
people to take “home” with them. Robert, who is not a small guy by any
means–he’s a big teddy bear actually–was given a few sandwiches and a big
plate of pasta salad to take with him. Robert doesn’t have a permanent address
but I believe he was headed to a friend’s place to get out of the heat for a
while. As we were breaking things down and preparing to leave, a man walked
up. He had just heard about the picnic and had hoped we’d still be serving.
Unfortunately we weren’t, as all the food had been distributed. We were able to
pour him two “glasses” of icy sweet tea out of the bottom of the cooler. Robert
walked off and I stopped for a moment to watch. Out of the corner of my eye, I
saw him take his plate of pasta salad over to the newcomer. Then he pulled
sandwiches out of his bag as well and handed them over. He didn’t do this for
anyone to see or take notice. He saw someone whose need he understood firsthand
and he shared what he had. This was not the first time he has done this. As I
stood there, I remembered when we served breakfast on July 4th and passed out
sack lunches. We had had enough to give out extras then as well. Robert had
given his extras to someone who came up late that day too. How blessed I am to
call this man my friend!
Today is his birthday. His brother is driving
over from a neighboring town to take him back for a celebration. Robert’s
sister, whose birthday was earlier this month, is joining them from out of
town. His daughter is coming to be with her Daddy and to surprise her aunt.
His son can’t be there as he is serving our country overseas right now, but he
will be remembered and celebrated, as will Robert’s son who drowned and his
daughter who died of sickle cell years ago. He was so happy and so excited
thinking about it. He planned to do laundry while visiting his friend Sunday
evening in preparation for the big day. It is even possible that his wife of 32
years, whom he has known and loved since 9th grade will be there too. I hope he
has a wonderful and joyful day full of laughter and celebrating and healing. He
I don’t know why Robert is going from place to place,
basically living on the streets or any vacant place he can find. I don’t know
why he and his wife aren’t living together. I don’t know why he spent so long
in prison waiting to be told the charges were dropped. I don’t know what path
led this intelligent and compassionate man to be where he is. And it’s not my
business or my place to question, but I do know this. We are more alike than we
are different. He is a good man and I’m blessed to have him as my friend. And
I also know that I can’t wait to hear all about his birthday when I see him on
Sunday. Happy Birthday Robert! May God bless you and your family!