A Dying Man, a Boy, A Legacy

Hank Mattimore
April 24 2013
Reproduced with Permission

I was thinking recently about President George Bush and the legacy he left the nation in his memorial museum in Dallas. Presidents and former presidents get to do that sort of thing. I guess it's okay. Not a darn thing I could do about it anyway.

But as I sat by the bedside of an ordinary kind of guy dying of cancer, I begin to think of the legacy this man left to literally hundreds of foster kids he worked with through the years. The kids who experienced the love and caring attitude of Jim were blessed.

I wonder if many of us can relate to the traumas, the neglect, and the abuse that has been the lot of many kids in foster care. Abandoned by their parents, they troop from foster homes to group homes, never quite understanding what is happening to them.

Then, for the fortunate ones, a man called Jim shows up as a house parent at a group home. He understands them. He respects them. He sees their possibilities. He does not give up on them. Wow! A seed is planted in the soul of a kid who, until then, thinks that he is a failure. Someone believes in him.

As Jim lay dying in a board and care home, I recalled one of Jim's proudest moments in his work at the Children's Village (a home for abused and neglected kids in Santa Rosa.) A fourteen-year-old boy was in the throes of a major melt down. I don't know what caused it, parents not showing up to visit him? Maybe being blamed for something he did not do? Being bullied by one of the other kids? Who knows what can set off the ticking time bomb that sets off a kid already traumatized by rejection and abandonment.

The boy was out of control. He was cursing to heaven, blaming God, his parents, the village with all the energy of his fourteen years. He kicked garbage cans; he threw rocks; he cursed God. It was scary.

One of the other group home staff, fearful of the boys own safety and that of other kids, was about to call the police, to take him to mental health services for observation.

Then I saw Jim quietly approaching the boy. He didn't say a word. Words were of no use now. Instead he took him in his arms and hugged him. Just hugged him. Gently, this caring man led the trembling boy to a place on the edge of the village grounds. They sat together arm in arm for maybe ten minutes while the boy magically calmed down. In his despair, the young boy had found someone he trusted, someone who cared for him.

Legacies come in different forms. For the rich and famous, it is wonderful that they can leave libraries and papers and all the things that make people sit up and notice them for all they have done.

I have no quarrel with that but I am in awe of a man who showed up in the life of a kid who was starved for affection and respect and love and gave him all three. Now there's a legacy.

PS. Jim died two days ago, surrounded by a small cadre of friends who knew him and who will always hold him in their hearts. And the desperate kid who got his hug from Jim? He graduated from high school last year and is now attending college. Somewhere up there I am betting there is an ordinary guy named Jim who is rooting for him.