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