The following-edited story was sent to me by a reader.
Our house was right across the street from the John Hopkins Hospital clinic’s entrance in Baltimore. We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to outpatients at the clinic.
One summer evening when I was fixing supper, someone knocked at the door. I opened it to see a truly awful looking man. He is hardly taller than my 8-year-old, I thought as I stared at the stooped, shriveled body. The appalling thing was his face, lopsided from swelling, red and raw.
His voice was pleasant as he said, “Good evening. Do you have a room for just one night? I came for a treatment this morning, and there’s no bus ‘til morning. I’d been hunting for a room since noon with no success. No one seemed to have a room. I guess it’s my face. I know it looks terrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments . . .”
I hesitated but his next words convinced me, “I could sleep in this rocking chair on the porch. My bus leaves early in the morning.”
I told him we would find him a bed, but rest on the porch. I went inside and finished getting supper. When we were ready, I asked the old man if he would join us. “No, thank you. I have plenty.” He held up a brown paper bag.
When I finished supper, I went on the porch to talk with him. It did not take long to see that this old man had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told me he fished for a living to support his daughter, her five children, and her husband, who was crippled from a back injury.
He did not say it by way of complaint. In fact, he prefaced every other sentence with a thanks to God for a blessing. He was grateful that no pain accompanied his disease, which was apparently a form of skin cancer. He thanked God for giving him the strength to keep going.
At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children’s room for him. When I got up in the morning, the little man neatly folded the bed linens and seated himself was on the porch.
He refused breakfast, but just before he left for his bus, he humbly asked for a big favor, “Could I please come back and stay here the next time I have a treatment? I would be glad to sleep in a chair.” He paused a moment and added, “Your children made me feel at home. My face bothers grownups, but children don’t seem to mind.” I told him he was welcome to come again.
On his next trip, he arrived about 7:00 A.M.. As a gift, he brought a big fish and a quart of the largest oysters I had ever seen! He said he had shucked them that morning before he left so that they would be very fresh. I knew his bus left at 4:00 A.M. I wondered what time he had to get up to do this for us. In the years he came to stay overnight, there was never a time he didn’t bring fish, oysters or vegetables from his garden.
When I received these little gifts, I often thought of a comment our next-door neighbor made after he left 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 lost roomers once or twice but if only they could have known him. I know our family always will be grateful to have known him. We learned what it means to accept the bad without complaint and the good with gratitude to God. He was a gift for us.
“The Lord does not see as humans see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) So should we!