Giving life to another must be the most wonderful feeling. Mothers and fathers that extol the worth of parenthood must surely know this. I’ve never had the privilege. Never passed on life. Never saved a life. But I almost did. My actions extended the life of Mr. Thomas.
I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was as difficult and unpopular as you might imagine. Always the oddball; whispered about, or rudely jeered. People always know all the things Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do. Birthdays, Christmas, flag salute, blood transfusions. Few define them by what they do. Those things get forgotten. Promote peace, and obedience to authority. Share a message of hope free of charge. Work hard to be good neighbors, good families, good citizens.
And, then, of course, there’s that pesky public ministry. “Door to door.” Chances are you’ve seen a pair of them one Saturday morning, had your doorbell rang. Stayed quiet until they left. I used to be out there. It wasn’t easy. Sweating, being mocked, being unwelcome. But not always. I met and made good friends. Found people who listened and appreciated. Mr. Thomas was one of them. I was much younger when I met the retired professor, who was in his late eighties. We had thought provoking discussions of philosophy, the purpose of life, the future. We learned from each other. I’d quote Scripture, and he’d quote Milton. He always greeted me happily, and always invited me back. “Go in peace,” were always his parting words. In Latin, naturally. That was Mr. Thomas. His sister, nearly the same age, lived with him. She stayed inside, while he came out to converse. “It’s those Bible thumpers, Margaret,” I heard him tell her once, when he was in a particularly cantankerous mood. It was always obvious, though, that Mr. Thomas saw me as a person and as a friend, before anything else. I felt the same. I’ve had very few conversations as intelligent and insightful as the ones we shared.
Mr. Thomas was fiercely independent. Took care of himself, insisted on it. Drove himself to the grocery store and back slowly and carefully, maintained his small home. Family visited him occasionally, but nobody was constantly watching over him. Or so it would have seemed. I realized the truth of the matter one hot Tuesday morning. I arrived at the Kingdom Hall 9:00 sharp on that day, only to find that nobody else was there for public ministry. We usually went in pairs. Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one.” I could have gone back home. But I had already shaved, had a pressed shirt and pants and necktie on. Might as well make the most of it, I thought. At least drop by and see Mr. Thomas. And there he was, sitting outside his garage in one of those lawn chairs with the striped nylon straps. I remember him telling me that he’d just finished mowing the lawn. In the heat. With a push mower. I don’t remember if I scolded him for it, reminded him to hydrate, or really what we talked about at all. Those details are fuzzy after all this time.
Over twenty years later, I do still recall clearly many vivid details. The way his mouth froze agape-mid sentence. How his eyes rolled heavenward, irises disappearing, ghostly gray scleras signaling emergency. The sudden waxy pallor his face took on. I also remember how very heavy the little old man was, dead weight, as I lowered him slowly from his lawn chair to lie prone on the sidewalk. How I rushed inside his home and past his worried sister, called 911, and convinced Margaret to stay inside, sit down, and remain calm. I recall doing my best to take that last piece of advice myself, as I sprinted back out. And, the detail that I remember the most, perhaps because it was odd and unexpected. Mr. Thomas’ dentures rattling loose in his mouth as I began resuscitation efforts. After that, there was finally a feeling of relief, when I felt the paramedic’s hand on my shoulder.
They took Mr. Thomas away, sirens blaring. I never saw him again. He regained consciousness, I later found out, and could communicate with his family during his final week. They’d come from states away to say their goodbyes. I got a card later from his daughter, thanking me for preserving her father, if only temporarily. She was convinced that God had sent me that day. I wonder about that. Had I chosen not to call on Mr. Thomas, would He have sent a different person? Or an angel? Or would the old gentleman have breathed his last out in his front yard, awaiting discovery by his panicky sister? I can’t begin to know. It matters little.
I haven’t been “door to door: for some time now. I won’t explain my reasons or the current state of my faith. I will say that there were some days I questioned the merit of spending hours being scorned and turned away. But, I can never question the fact that the ministry of self-sacrificing individuals fills a vital need in society. We need a message of hope, now more than ever. “Angels are guiding the work,” I was brought up to believe. I have no reason to question that, either. There’s greater reason to believe the accuracy of that statement. It made a difference in my life. And in Mr. Thomas’. That fateful Tuesday, he was either given a tiny reprieve, or a huge gift, depending on how you look at it.