He was feeling more emotional than usual because of a new seizure medication we were trying, and a steroid he had to take for brain swelling. We decided a brisk night walk would do both of us good, so he put on his big poncho, I put on my coat, and we headed out.
In the cold, familiar dark of our walk, he sometimes laughed, sometimes chattered, sometimes cried with joy and sorrow. He was starting to limp lately as he lost control of his right side, and he also expressed himself in quirky ways since his speech was distorted at times by the tumor, and the right word could be hard to find.
He seemed to be thinking hard.
“If I get well, I want to be a…… monk. A monk? Is that right?”
“Can I be a monk?”
“What are you talking about exactly?”
“I want my job to be just going around and helping people- fixing their car if they need it, mowing their lawn, getting them groceries, whatever they need, and tell them, ‘Jesus loves you!”
I smiled at this extraordinary man I loved, as he limped at my side in the moonlight, tears still on his face from earlier when he had been frustrated and sad.
“Well, the problem would be that you can’t be a monk and be married. And you are not getting rid of me that easily!”
“Can you be a monk, too?”
I laughed and hugged him. “It doesn’t really work that way.”
“And besides, ” I added, “anyone can live a life of prayer and service.”
He thought about this a long time.
“Dang. I really wanted to wear those cool robes, though!”
I got the giggles about this. How much more charming could he be?
Bob had a strong sense of community. He was deeply aware that everything he did or did not do affected everyone else’s life, that we all have an effect on one another, all the time, in all we touch and do. He called this his “skin religion,” and he tried to live it to the full.
He cultivated a constant awareness of others, and had a knack for seeing how each might be helped, and then doing it. He noticed people’s needs and contributions every day.
He always encouraged someone he saw working hard, or doing something good. He pitched in an act of kindness everywhere he could.
The sign shaker guy on the corner was cold and needed a hot chocolate. Bob bought one and had me take it out to the man.
A girl at a small town grocery store was putting back all that she had in her basket. Unknown to her, Bob had watched her do this. Following behind, he had put her things in his own basket. As he paid, he had me run outside and ask her to wait a minute. I asked this girl what was wrong. “I was out of money on my food stamp card. I thought I had more.” “What were you getting?” “After school snacks for my kids.” And here comes Bob, handing her a bag of groceries.
A kid in our neighborhood loved basketball, and played often in his driveway. Bob noticed his net was broken one day. He went and got the kid a net, leaving it on his front porch.
I remember a time he fixed the cook’s car in the parking lot at the Vietnamese restaurant we liked. He asked about it every time, too, to make sure it was still running OK.
When he got where he shouldn’t be driving anymore, he gave his truck away to someone at work who needed a vehicle.
When Bob mowed our lawn, he always mowed the neighbor’s yard, too. Sometimes he went around the corner to mow an elderly couple’s yard while he was at it, as a matter of course. He considered it to be what he was supposed to do.
When he saw anything broken, he fixed it. He would never have thought of not doing so. It was his gift. So it’s what he did. Bob walked around with a wrench in his back pocket. It made me smile. It was a good symbol of his sense of purpose.
After Bob’s death, to celebrate his birthday, December 13th, we began what we call, “The Bobly Day.” It is a day of random acts of kindness, of noticing the needs around us, of sneaky good deeds, gestures of love and service, wherever we are.
2014 has been our third December to celebrate Bob’s birthday this way. It is mainly a Face Book event. Friends invite their friends, who invite their friends. People who never knew Bob celebrate this day along with those of us who did. On the event page, I ask that people report back to the rest of us what they did. Whoever is comfortable with sharing does so.
At this writing, it has been a pretty good Bobly Day. The usual number of people officially “signed up” this third year. As in the years before, we have a bit over 100 people. We have Bobly friends in New York City, Chicago, California, South Africa, Scotland,
and of course, here in Texas, going out and looking for good deeds to do and having fun doing them!
Streets have been picked up, (something Bob used to do around the neighborhood,) stranded motorists helped, leaves raked, gifts given, appreciation expressed, hugs offered, needy children cheered, angry words held back, veterans’ needs attended to, rides given, smiles exchanged, tabs paid, and animals helped. Here are some of the examples people have shared the last three years, on face book, or e-mail, or by telling me.
“I helped an old guy in line at the doctor’s office who needed blood pressure medicine but had no money for the required doctor visit. I paid for his visit so he could get his medicine.”
“Was going to go out of town this weekend, but gave my trip money to a Christian rehab center instead!”
“Today at the Texas Aggie women’s basketball game, my husband and I bought teddy bears to donate to their teddy bear drive.”
“I taught a guitar lesson to a girl who couldn’t afford a teacher.”
“While walking through the airport, I spotted an elderly lady resting on a huge recliner. I realized it was a massage chair. I put $5 (the maximum) in the slot and it started humming and moving that dear, little lady. She let out an audible “ooooo” and smiled ever so broadly. She then thanked me and said, “My, but it HAS been a long time”, winked and then smiled some more. I’m not sure which one of us was enjoying her “massage” more. I’m giggling as I type this.”
“The kids made blankets for the hospital, and took them there today. They spent some of their own money to get the materials.”
“I paid it forward at the What- a- Burger drive through!”
“I hugged a homeless guy and took him lunch.”
“I gave up my seat on the subway.”
“I shared about the Bobly Day and his life with someone going through her fifth round of cancer.”
“There was a man on the corner with a sign that said “I have three kids.” I have my three girls in the car and would do anything for them. I handed him a 20 and said Merry Christmas.”
“I made gifts for the people that work at all the fast food places I go to. They were thrilled!”
“Today I’m donating baby things for moms in need.”
Of course the Bobly Day is a “Christly Day.”
Looking for ways to help others is one of the ways Bob Chapman lived the Gospel, and found Jesus in his beautiful life, by practicing his “skin religion.” We can, too.
My (and Bob’s) Advent Challenge to you,Beloved Reader, is to go out and have a Bobly week, a Christly week. Practice the joy of the coming celebration of the birth of our Incarnate Lord, with a little “Skin Religion,” and have fun doing it! Gaudete!