They Showed Me How to Truly Live

Recently, someone mentioned debts that can never be repaid, and my own indebtedness to Tom and Farrar Cottingham came to mind in a strong way.  I’ve learned over the years that when someone comes to mind like that, it’s imperative to get in touch with them as soon as possible.  So, I tracked down Farrar’s current number and gave her a call.

As we chatted, I was good for the first couple of minutes, but when I thanked her again for rescuing me 24 years ago, I lost it.  I got choked up and started crying.  I told her I would never be able to repay the debt I owed them.  She told me I didn’t have to.  She also reminded me that they had simply done what they hoped anybody would do.

When I was 21 years old, my apartment lease ended a month early due to university policy changes.  After living in my truck for a couple of weeks, I posted flyers around town looking for a room to rent.  At first, no calls came in, and things started looking pretty bleak.

A few days later, Farrar called the number listed (a friend’s house) saying she had seen my “Homeless College Student” flyer and told me to stop by for an informal interview.  I was ecstatic!

When I went to their house that night and saw the list of questions they had made, I was a little worried.  They finally said that they were just having some fun with me!  I started laughing, and we wound up talking for almost an hour.  At last, it was agreed; I moved in the next day.

During the year that followed, they not only provided me with a room, they treated me like family.  I soon realized that those two didn’t simply talk the talk about being good Christian people, they lived it every day.

Tom and Farrar had long been firm believers in meeting people’s physical needs before meeting their spiritual needs – that Christ’s love demonstrated spoke volumes more than empty words.  They believed that if they cared for people’s health and well-being, then those same people would listen when it came to spiritual things.

Furthermore, they brought it full circle.  They discussed spiritual things daily with each other, with me, and with other people.  They just made sure that their living words had tangible actions in front of them.  Social change and empowerment were real things to the Cottinghams, and they made them real on a one-on-one basis with the people they came in contact with.

Through their daily, constant examples, Tom and Farrar showed me how to live.  Every day by them just being them, they showed me what really mattered in dealing with people, in dealing with situations, and in dealing with life.  Sure, we had our differences.  In fact, we rarely agreed on politics.  But in time, I came to understand how little politics actually matter when it got right down to it.  We were playing on the spiritual team.

At the end of that year, I moved out and got married.  My wife and I visited them regularly while we still lived in the same town, but we eventually moved away to follow careers and raise our own family.  We stayed in touch over the years and visited when we could.  Tom died in 2012 at 96 years old.  He led an amazing, full life.

Farrar is now 95, but on the phone she still sounded like the chipper 71 year-old whose vibrant personality lit up the room.  I was making mental notes as she talked about living, serving, and enjoying life: ever the optimist with some realism thrown in.  We discussed various things, including the importance of paying forward acts of kindness and genuine care.  It was so good to talk with her again.

Tom and Farrar took me in when I had no place to go and showed me how to truly live.  For that, I will forever be grateful.

Books by Marty


What Will Be Written?

What will be written
When my headstone is set?
What will be written
When I am gone?
What will be pushed into grains of the granite,
Written in stone?
Who will write the thousands of stories
That still occupy my mind?
Who will put them onto the paper
When I am no more and cannot write?
Who will gather them together again
And force them to go in straight lines,
Holding hands so they make sense,
Or let them run around nilly-willy
And enjoy the free-flow form that results?
What will become of my brain,
That gray mass of creative pumping power
After it ceases to press forth wonder in words
About the world that surrounds?
And all of the ideas that flow at night,
Will they stop in the morning
Because they have found a resting place?
Fiery minds call for the snow
And hope for all to see
The cooling notion that occurs
When one touches the other.
Again – what will be written, more-or-less?
Or all three?

Books by Marty

Philip’s Time

Hi – Here’s a the beginnings of a short story that came to mind tonight.  Enjoy ~

“Philip’s Time”

For homework, the students had to write a creative story.  It could be based on reality, or it could be totally made up from their heads.  Philip wanted to write about the time he was swimming in the Caribbean in the winter and how a shark almost bit him in half.  Lucky for him, he had a homemade knife strapped to his leg with vines he had found on the island.

As he remembered the time in the water, he started writing down the events of what happened.  Resharpening his pencil three times, he finally finished his mini-epic with all of the glory and fanfare of a Tolkien trilogy.

Before going to brush his teeth and going to bed, he found a stapler in his father’s office.  He stapled his report together.  Walking back into the living room, he handed the joined sheets of words and lines to his mother.  It was three pages long, but he had covered everything that he was needing to express.  His mother looked at the report in amazement.  She didn’t know what to do.

“Read it,” he said.  “You’ll like it.”
“Ok.  I’m sure I will,” she replied, still in surprised-mode.

Philip turned and went upstairs to brush his teeth.
His father put down the newspaper he had been reading and looked at his wife.  “Are you okay,” he asked.

“You need to see this,” she replied.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s his homework.  A creative story.”

They read the first paragraph and stopped.  They were amazed.

“It’s like an old soul describing his encounter with a shark,” said Philip’s mother.
They looked at each other with mouths open and eyebrows slightly furrowed.

Philip was right, his parents would never believe him.  How could they?  He was only eight, but he had already lived two lifetimes prior to living this one.  No matter.  He was here now, and things would prove themselves out in the long run.  They always did.  Just like both times before, they would do so again.

Life trapped inside the body of a child.  How stifling and how exhilarating at the same time.  He would have the chance to live a life again, but this time from closer to the very beginning.

He would have to temper his successes, otherwise he would stand out too much and cause havoc in his life and in the lives of his parents.  They would realize everything going on soon enough.  Besides, it was not his place to correct his parents nor to declare the secrets he had learned in his previous passages through history.

Time would reveal all the things he wanted to express but was afraid to.  It was better that way.  That way, he wouldn’t be directly involved in the issuance of knowledge to mere mortals, but could still be a part of the whole thing.

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Remembered by Thousands

I write every day.
Sometimes I put the words on paper
And some of those times, they’re actually good.
I mean so good that they get printed
Or go in a book
Or posted online
And remembered by thousands of people
Around the world.
That’s the part that makes me smile
And realize once again
The ironies of life:
That an idea that started in the mind
Of one in one part of the world
Winds up in the minds of millions
In all the other parts of the world.


Books by Marty

It Responds By

The passing of the night
Breathes into the world
An elated amount of love
That is only measured
In the meting out of the heart.
When more happens
Than the soul can absorb,
It responds
By blocking out
The overabundance
Of reactions and thoughts.

Books by Marty