Have you ever met someone and immediately got the sense that they were very spiritual, maybe not religious and maybe not Christian, but very spiritual. I always seem to find these people in the most unlikely places. That is how it was with Tom. I found him sitting on a cooler, waiting for the ferry to cross the bay.
Tom was a little bit dirty, with paint covered cloths and tanned skin. His eyes opened so wide that they looked as if they were about to pop out of his eye sockets, and his friendly grin showed a mouth full of crooked, broken or missing teeth. He wore a white fisherman’s cap that failed to contain his wild tangle of curly blonde hair. Tom looked like John the Baptist.
Tom is definitely one of the most interesting people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Over the course of half hour ferry ride we talked about all kinds of things ranging from Hurricane Ike to the stimulus package to his family and his thoughts on how to live a better life.
Someone once asked Tom what he would do with ten million dollars. He said he would spend it.
When I asked Tom what he did for a living, he told me that he builds houses, but that, after building a 1650 square foot house single handedly in just seven months, he was looking for another line of work. Now he is working on learning a guitar and becoming a musician, a dream that he fully expects to accomplish.
As we talked, I got the sense that Tom looked at life through a very positive lens. He talked about the problems in the world, and though he is not religious, he believes that the end of days is coming, and that it will take “something else”, his way of referring to a higher power, to make it right.
“If you could give a stranger any one piece of advice, what would it be?”
“I would tell them to slow down, and take time to solve your problems and do things right, because we are all going to live forever, and if we try to make our lives a little bit better each day then at least we are making progress.”
The last that I saw of Tom, he was smoking a Black and Mild, and jogging down the side of the road toward some unknown destination.
The funny thing is, I would not have even met Tom if I had not missed the ferry to talk to Anika, the dancer / construction worker from Texas City that I met as I was making my first bay crossing of the day.
Anika stopped me to see some of my pictures, and to show me some that she had taken. As we talked I learned that she was dancing, and working construction to pay her bills and try to save money. She loves to travel, and wants to buy a vending trailer so that she can travel to different places around the country and bring her job with her. I really got the feeling that Anika loves independence. She lives in a 14 ft trailer, and her only bill is her cell phone, a whopping $170 a month.
When I asked her what piece of advice she would give to a stranger, she responded by telling me the gospel. I was really surprised at first. Dancer and Christian is an odd combination. She told me that she really did not like where she was at in her life. She felt like she needed to dance because it is the easiest way for her to make money and still be independent. She told me stories about her high school youth group, and her seven brothers and sisters, and her alcoholic husband.
Spending time with Tom and with Anika was a serious lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Both Tom and Anika are extraordinary people. If I had not taken the time to get to know them, then I would have an entirely different impression of them than I do now, not that it would be a bad impression, but it would not be the real them.
PS: Sorry about not having pictures today, because of an oversight on my part, I was not able to edit the portraits that I have of these people.
PSS: I did not even get to talk about Charles, the shop manager who survived Katrina in New Orleans, and then Ike in Galveston, but who is still making a living and moving on with his life, and who now owns a forth floor apartment.