Let me set the scene and refresh your memory: a man convicted of murder was sleeping in our family room. Interestingly, I slept like a baby that night. I woke up the next morning both surprised and disappointed in myself that I did not spend the night obsessing over the what ifs that had haunted me the day before. I guess those ghosts had run their course and had floated on out of our house.
Yes, God had answered my prayers, however, I came to find that Mr. Richard was praying for his own protection. While I went to bed with murder on my mind, Mr. Richard went to bed wondering if my husband, an attorney, was in cahoots with the County Attorney’s Office to set him up for some dubious parole violation. Richard was trying to walk the straight and narrow and he thought to himself that that would be just his luck- the two attorneys that helped him find a warm bed for the night only did so to incriminate an innocent man. Why else would all these people be willing to help a man like him? Isn’t that just the way our world works? Whenever someone tries to do something nice for us we think, “what’s the catch?” Our world is so cynical and bruised from so much violence that we automatically assume the worst. Richard and I were prime examples of this. Here we were, two harmless human beings racking our heads with anxiety because of the crazy shady world we live in. Its either that or a sign that we watch too much T.V. It all seems laughable now. Just to be clear- there definitely was no plot to incriminate.
When I think of the month and a half or so that Mr. Richard lived with us I think of dinner. Lots and lots of dinner. If this were a movie, I would make a montage of all the dinners we shared. The first few would be almost icy with us all feeling each other out and my husband, Emmanuel, trying to break the ice with his witty sense of humor. Then, the montage would melt, a gradual progression, into laughter- lots and lots of laughter as we got to know Mr. Richard and became friends.
One day at dinner, Mr. Richard laughed a gleeful chuckle. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but he reminded me of someone. There was something familiar in his laugh. Later, while my son played with his toy cars, it clicked. Imagine “Tow- Mater” from Disney Pixar’s Cars franchise. Now imagine that Mater is a real man and now you have Mr. Richard.
Just like Mater, Richard turned out to be the unexpected friend with a big heart.
For almost 10 years now I have consistently prayed for God to give me friends. I always have a picture in mind of what kind of friends would be most desired. These wished upon friends are of the happy hour and paint your nails together variety. They are shadows of treasured friendships that I had long ago. But in reality those special friends were reserved for that special time in my life. At least that is what I suspect because God has never given me friends like that again. Instead, God has blessed me with the friends that I didn’t know I needed. Friends that I never would have imagined would be my most trusted allies. Friends of different religions, race, age, family background, interests, heritage, geography, etc. I mean, what could be more different than a 50 something white man from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas who grew up shooting squirrel and a 30 something Hispanic woman who grew up in a Texas city bordering Mexico where she made up dances in her desert landscaped backyard? In 1983 when Mr. Richard was heading into prison I was a potty training, tricycle riding 2 year old. What do we have in common? Nothing. Everything.
And yet, the three of us could sit around the dinner table and laugh and immediately get to the deepest levels of conversation. We could get down to the issues that really matter in life. I have learned that when you open yourself up to meeting people that are quite different from yourself you come to find that you are not really that different after all. All it takes is a willingness to step outside your comfort zone and get to know someone new.
Life with our Tow-Mater friend was great. As our friends and family got to meet Mr. Richard they were always shocked to learn about his past. You would have no idea that he had completed nearly 30 years in prison. He was so patient and so kind and considerate. He was always one step ahead of you- anticipating your needs. And our kids loved him. They would often run to him as he walked through the door, nearly tackling him as they greeted him in for dinner.
During his time with us he fixed our bathroom sink, fixed a door knob, fixed a leaky pipe, installed a light fixture, installed our dishwasher (see “Confessions of a Dishwasher”), helped drain our flooded crawl space (see “When your House Floats Away”), created a brick pathway to our driveway, and helped to landscape our backyard (see “Tilling the Earth”). He did all of this as well as other things that I am sure I am forgetting.
Amidst one of our many dinner conversations, Mr. Richard admitted that he did not mind doing work around our house because a lot of the time my husband was right there next to him. Sometimes, Emmanuel would be getting home from court, still in a suit and tie, and he would go outside and pull weeds with Mr. Richard. Mr. Richard said that he respected that because handy-work is not exactly my husband’s forte but that didn’t stop Emmanuel from helping. Mr. Richard really values that idea and has said that people should, ” lend a helping hand. Do what you can. No matter what your skill set is you can always lend a helping hand.”