“The human spirit holds strength beyond measure, the kind that will break down the walls of all the blocks that come our way.” Nikki Rowe
I have always loved unique eccentric people who are unapologetically themselves. So many of us are people pleasers who are not very honest with others or ourselves, especially when it comes to who we really are. Most of us want to fit in or hide behind a façade. I love people’s stories, especially those who show up in their life and are not carbon copies of the rest of the world around them. As the saying goes, they dance to the beat of their own drum. I have learned a lot over the years from these idiosyncratic souls. They have taught me to let go of what others think more, and as I age, it becomes easier. Here is one individual who was only in my life for only a few days a year but has played a role in showing me what gut honesty and genuine gratitude look and feel like.
When we moved into our home over 28 years ago, I learned that up the road from us lived Paul, a hermit, or at least that’s what some in our community called him. He was rugged and very thin but had a considerable presence. He was a local auctioneer and enjoyed collecting.
Paul’s small home was about a half-mile from our house on a large forested property he owned. I’m not sure, but I would say his home was not much more than 300-400 square feet. He had no running water and was not connected to the grid for electricity. Later after a few years, he had a solar panel that provided enough solar power for his satellite radio which he passionately enjoyed. It’s where he collected some information for his debates 🙂 . He had some chickens and a cat; he loved them all dearly. They were not just pets; they were his companions, and he affectionally cared for each of them. He had a name for all of them. He also had a couple of beehives for honey.
The first time I first met Paul, I did not know what to think of him. He cursed like a pirate, had no problem speaking his mind, and loved to challenge me from the first time we met.
“I suppose you are one of those religious people who believes in God?” he says
Daring me to say so. Before I can even answer,
“I don’t believe in all that God shit; that is nothing more than a god damn fairy tale!”
And so it began.
Over the years, I did not see Paul that often, but he would drop by every now and then, usually for another challenging conversation about God or some other controversial subject. He loved a good debate. After a few times, I came to enjoy these little banterings as I got to know him. I saw something in his eyes; they had sadness and pain in them, yet when he was excited about something, his eyes twinkled like a little boy.
I came to see through all that bravado to a gentle soul inside that crusty gruff exterior.
I would not hear from Paul for months as he usually worked away in the winter and would show up out of the blue, but usually only a couple of times each summer.
He would also do thoughtful things; one spring in my hothouse, I found two full bags of composted chicken manure mysteriously appeared. Those of you who are gardeners know this is a standard gold fertilizer. Best tomatoes I ever grew that year! Another time we had just built a new home next to our old one. We had thrown out an old small kitchen wooden table for the garbage truck to pick up. It was long past what I thought was of any use; it was old, beaten and full of stains and scratches. Shortly after we had moved into our new house, we came home one afternoon to find our table on the patio which had been exquisitely refinished. It looked brand new; I instantly knew who it was from, Paul. I called to thank him.
“Oh, that’s nothing; I saw it out by the side of the road and thought it had more life in it. I refinished it for you guys as a housewarming gift.“
Paul invited my husband, me and our two young sons over one summer to watch him extract ember golden honey from frames in a manual spinner and then bottle it. We all found it fascinating. After a tasting test or two or three, he gave us a couple of these beautiful bottles of honey to take home. He took such pride in everything he did. He later sold his hives after a bear tore them apart one too many times.
That was the first time I had ever been in his home. I felt honored that this private man invited our family to his sanctuary. It was packed full of nick-knacks that were all around his house. It was clear that each item had a particular place, and he enjoyed every piece as he shared stories about a few of them. On his walls were beautiful paintings that he spoke passionately about. The scent in the air was mixed with the fresh-cut flowers, herbs and leftover smoke from the wood stove. It was so cozy. I could tell that he loved and cherished every corner of that tiny home. That was the only time I was in his home until years later, after Paul had been diagnosed with a horrible illness called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
A few years before Paul’s diagnosis, I noticed he had begun to believe in a Higher Power. He spoke of his time in nature and how it deeply affected him. Over the years, he had come to believe there had to be something bigger than just coincidence that created this magnificent earth and all its beauty, interjecting a few expletives here and there as he spoke with a softer tone. Paul had not become religious but deeply spiritual. Paul talked about how his land had healed him of a great deal of pain from his past.
Before he died, I asked him if I could come to his home and record his story because Paul’s heart had become more tender by this time, and I felt his story was important.
That following week he invited me over. As I sat down across the table, Paul looked pensive. He shared about his life, about the pain and suffering he had endured. He shared his regrets, the loss of the “Love of his life,” taking full responsibility for losing her along with other regrets and other painful memories. I listened as he shared his life and the lessons he had learned from the school of hard knocks. When he finished, I asked him to share what it was like living here in this tiny paradise.
He speaks of his land with such loving admiration, knowing that he was just a steward and somehow understood that it was not his own, for it is an entity with a spirit all on its own; he had a deep respect for every acre. He shared how much healing it had given him over the years. He spoke of his home and how much he loved living and caring for it. At one point in our conversation, he starts to describe how he makes his bed. I will never forget the essence of his words. My eyes began to tear as he described every detail as a spiritual experience that he felt every day when he made it. This is more of a paraphrase, but it went something like this.
I never take it for granted that I get to slip into a comfortable bed each night and have blankets that keep me warm. We forget this is not a luxury for everyone in this world; therefore, each morning, I take my time pulling each sheet tight and tucking in the blankets. I thank God or whatever that creative force is in those moments for this soft place to lay my head each night. It’s important to remember.
His voice was gentle and humble as he spoke. I felt every word.
We went outside for a walk. Paul had magnificent tall flowers in structured beds around his property, lovingly all caged to protect them from his beloved chickens. This was so his rooster, hens with chicks, could wander around freely in his yard. His incredibly manicured property was his pride and joy. From his stacked firewood to his outhouse was a thing of beauty. He spoke about how being meticulous with each task was so important to him as we walked through his yard, from repairing his barn to edging the simple walkways that lead to his outhouse and the chicken coop. They were done with precision and a kind of reverence. At that moment, I realized he is not only a hermit but a mystic—someone who lives an ordinary life in extraordinary ways while living in a state of gratitude for his life. I had never witnessed this kind of living with such deep gratitude before; it was a teachable moment for me about my life. His life experiences had given him a tough outer exterior, but inside, he had found peace on the land and in the simple pleasure of his life. He taught me so much that day, and whenever I forget those lessons, I often hear him remind me, especially when I make my bed.
Before we walked outside that day, I asked him, “In three words, how would you describe yourself now, Paul?” I was delighted by his response, “Good little boy,” with that twinkle I had seen before. It seemed that Paul lived his life on his own terms and, in the last years of his life, found a poetic authentic grateful way to be present in each moment.
“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner” Tibetan Proverb
He died in his sleep. I believe Paul transitioned with his heart healed and went into spirit, feeling like a “Good Little Boy”; His spirit found love and freedom on the land, and it feels like his soul left this world at peace. He was a rich man indeed in the end.
I have grown to love the human spirit and its capability to heal. Paul was just one of those spirits.
I’ve learned a lot at sixty years old, but this message seems to have the most wisdom. The key to a peaceful life is living an authentic ordinary life in extraordinarily grateful ways.
Paul’s story is another story that bears witness to this very thing.
Joyce, this is such a beautiful story. I can visualize you and Paul sharing “Eucharist” together. Blessings each to the other.
Thanks, Joan; I have found so many teachers on this journey. I have come to believe they are all around us. Sometimes I miss them,
and other times, like Dorthy on the Wizard of Oz, I pulled back the curtain long enough to see who they really are.