There are times in my life when I wish people could see through my eyes and hear through my ears. Today was one of those days.
I was excited to get to Jim’s house today. My car was jam-packed full of donations from the floor to the ceiling and the trunk lid barely closed. Jim was sitting outside when I pulled up. He had just taken a break from splitting firewood and was resting his sore back. We shook hands and Jim took me over to the severed power line in his yard. He explained to me how the line got cut three years ago when his trailer burned to the ground and offered some ideas as to how an electrician could run a line from the junction box to his camper. I caught myself feeling a little annoyed that he was taking his time explaining everything while we were standing out in the cold.
“Well, enough about all of this, come on inside and we can chat.” After Jim’s trailer burned down, he bought a camper to put in its place. A few years later someone gave him a used RV that didn’t run. Between the camper and RV, Jim had created a porch like area that was walled off by plywood, canvas and a number of tarps. “Don’t mind Big Puppy. She just likes to hear herself bark. She’s a good girl.” I wasn’t worried about the dog. It was the half a dozen cats I saw sitting around. I was sure the cat dander was collecting in my lungs as we made our way into the camper and wondered how he was going to carry me out when I collapsed from an epic allergic reaction.
“Don’t worry about me, Josh. I was an Eagle Scout. I’ll get by.” I asked about his life and Jim told me about his 14 years working in commercial flooring. He traveled the globe remodeling Target stores. “I’ve been to Middleton to Burbank and up to Seattle working in Targets.” He then told me about the day he was working and heard a young girl screaming for her life. He looked out the window and saw a massive dog on top of a 6-year-old girl, “tearing her to pieces.” Without hesitation, Jim ran to the girl. He successfully tore the dog away from the little girl, but unfortunately was mauled in the process. Jim almost lost one arm and the other was nearly as bad. The physician treating both Jim and the little girl said he never saw anything like it before. “She shouldn’t have lived,” the doctor stated. “You saved her life.” 225 stitches later, that little girl walked out of the emergency room and Jim was unable to go back to work because of his life threatening injuries.
“After that accident happened, Josh, I had a string of more bad luck including my trailer being vandalized and being burnt to the ground. After awhile you just don’t understand why it’s all happening. I didn’t want to leave my home for a few years.”
I took Jim back down to my car and told him about how hundreds of community members flooded our Facebook page wanting to help. “That would be so nice to have an extra blanket or jacket,” he said. Oh Jim, I thought. You have no idea. I opened the door and he peeked in and looked at me like I was crazy. “Is that all for me?” Yes sir, I said. “Why? Why would anyone care?” We walked back toward the camper with bags in hand and I could tell Jim was stunned. He was trying to make sense of what was happening. His entire world had been turned upside down. He had convinced himself for so many years that he was all alone and now complete strangers wanted to do everything in their power to help a man they would never meet.
Bag after bag of pants, sweatshirts, coveralls, jackets, blankets, food, dog food, denture glue, and so much more was stacked inside of his camper. I told him that an electrician was on his way to survey the damage and that people were going to start bringing firewood to his home. We sat down again to soak it all in. We talked some more.
“I was watching 60 Minutes years ago and a 9-year-old inspired me. So I can’t take any credit for the idea.” Jim took me back into what should have been his shower/tub in the camper and here he had converted it into a shelving unit. “I saw this little boy create a Pet Pantry and thought, I’ll do the same thing. A lot of people go through rough times, but their pets shouldn’t go without food because of it.”
I stared at the bags of dog food and cat food in his bathroom as he told me how he calls companies, asking them to donate food for his pet pantry. Jim talked about his love for his volunteer time at the Humane Society. Here’s a guy that has gone without electricity for three years in his home and is logging in more volunteer hours than most and giving up his own food when necessary to feed the animals in the neighborhood.
Walking back to my car after saying goodbye, I felt a little sad. I could tell Jim wanted me to stay. He was overwhelmed and brought to near tears with the outpouring of support, but what he wanted most was someone to talk to. He yearned for connection. We take so much for granted with our personal belongings and luxuries, but what we minimize most is our inherent need to connect with others. Take that connection away and we are lost. Everything else is a mere distraction.