The Old Fisherman
By: Unknown Author
Our house was directly across the street from the clinic entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to outpatients at the clinic. One summer evening, as I was fixing supper, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see a truly awful-looking man. ‘Why, he’s hardly taller than my eight-year-old,’ I thought as I stared out at the stooped, shriveled body.
But the appalling part was his face; lopsided from swelling, red and raw. Yet, his voice was pleasant as he said, "Good evening. I’ve come to see if you have a room for just one night. I came from the eastern shore for a treatment this morning and there’s no bus till morning." He told me he’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 just a few more treatments…" At that moment, 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 and to rest on the porch for a bit. I went inside and finished getting supper prepared; when it was ready I asked the old man if he would join us. "No, thank you, I have plenty," as he held up a brown paper bag.
I went out to the porch to talk with him after the dishes were finished. It didn’t take long to see that this old man had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told me that he fished for a living and supported his daughter, her husband (who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury) and their five children. He didn’t tell it by way of complaint, in fact, every other sentence was prefaced with thanks to God for a blessing. He was grateful that no pain accompanied his disease, a form of skin cancer; and he was thankful for the strength to keep going. At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children’s room for him.
When I got up that morning the bed linens had been neatly folded, and the little man was already out on the porch. He refused breakfast. Just before he left for the bus, he halted, as when asking for a great favor, he said, "Could I please come back and stay the next time I have a treatment? I won’t put you out a bit. I can sleep fine in a chair." He paused a moment and then added, "Your children made me feel at home. Grownups are bothered by my face, but children don’t seem to mind." I told him that he was welcome to come again.
On his next trip he arrived a little after seven in the morning. 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’d be nice and fresh. I knew his bus left at 4 a.m. and I wondered what time he had to get up in order to do this for us.
In the following years when he came to stay with us, there was never a time that he did not bring us fish, oysters or vegetables from his garden. Other times, we received packages in the mail, always by special delivery; fish & oysters packed in a box of fresh, young spinach or kale, every leaf carefully washed. Knowing that he had to walk three miles to mail them and, knowing how little money he earned, made the gifts doubly precious.
When I received these tokens, I often thought of a comment our next-door neighbor made after the fisherman 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 did lose roomers once or twice; but if they could have only known him, perhaps their own illness would have been easier to bear. I know our family will always be grateful to have known him. From him, we learned what it was to accept the bad without complaint and the good with gratitude.
Recently, I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But, to my great surprise, it was growing in an old, dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, ‘If this were my plant, I’d put it in the loveliest container I had!’
My friend changed my mind. "I had run out of pots," she explained, "and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail. It’s just for a little while till I can put it out into the garden."
She might have wondered why I laughed with delight at this; but I was imagining such a scene in heaven. An especially beautiful one, where God would say when he came to the soul of the sweet, old fisherman, ‘He won’t mind starting out in this small body.’
Can you grow where you’ve planted…knowing that you will eventually be in God’s eternal garden?
May 2018 be a year of growing in grace & faith
Happy New Year