A Simple and Well Lived Life of Faith; by a Middle Class American
How Great Thou Art
O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
The works Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow’r throughout
The universe displayed,
When Christ shall come,
With shouts of acclamation,
And take me home,
On Sunday Morning, July 28th, Bill de Blasio, said that the Democrats lost the last election because they had walked away from the “working person.” Finally a voice of reason. A statement to other Democrats to refocus on the average Americans, who work hard and aren’t embarrassed about their faith. I knew a person that represented what Blasio was talking about, his name was Kenny Smith of Portland Maine.
I met Kenny Smith almost forty years ago.
We both had just entered our twenties. A gang of trouble makers had begun to bother our group and began making menacing threats. A group of us stood up and pushed back. A small skirmish ensued and the gang left, realizing that it was too much trouble to bother us.
Kenny, was one of those who stood up and defended his friends. Not because he was aggressive, but because he disagreed with the unfairness of the gang’s act. A simple determination of what he should do.
Early in his life, Kenny was no angel and at times would allow his youth to dictate his actions. But his camaraderie that evening showed the glimmer in the emergence of a man who would follow a simple but moral path and hold others to that standard.
Kenny died this spring, after a year-long battle with cancer. A battle he never gave into, instead he relied on his faith, and family for strength.
Kenny didn’t fight this battle with complaint, but with a silent resolve to try to win. His opponent, cancer, proved to be too big of a foe and unlike that gang from forty years ago, wouldn’t back down. To his final days he didn’t back down as well.
During the time of his last battle, I was walking the Appalachian trail. I observed this fight from afar via Facebook updates by his wife, Bonnie. Faraway, standing on mountaintops I became a distant spectator to this struggle. What I observed was not a panicked man, but one of faith. A man who quietly did and put up with what his doctors advised. He met every challenge with a spirit of strength, despite not being able to eat and in great pain.
Those who visited him, were drawn to this spirit of resolve and prayed for Kenny. There were many moments of heroism by his doctors and wife to do anything to make Kenny better. He stood in and up to what proved to be his last battle with an unwanted intruder.
Kenny died peacefully and mercifully surrounded by his family and friends in a private hospital emergency room. Before he died, he reminded his wife of his promise made many years ago, “I will love you forever.” And near his death he said, “I kept my promise. And I will wait for you, but take your time I will be there waiting.” Simple words of faith to where he was passing and loyalty to a lifelong partner. His wife’s post on Facebook the day he died was her reply,
“Our Captain made his final voyage today. Our hearts are broken as we bid farewell. Well done, my love, until we meet again. ❤️”
Kenny’s story didn’t end with a miracle other than that of faith. No one of us can ever explain why cancer menaced a brave and faithful man. But I do know faith won and the terror of cancer lost. Kenny’s miracle was in how he lived. Kenny showed his friends and family how to live and confront our foes. Not to give in, but to stand up. To use our faith of blessed assurance as our shield from life’s menacing situations.
Kenny lived this way throughout his life as well.
Like all of us, he matured in his early twenties and had three children. For thirty seven years he worked driving a truck. Many of the years as an OTR driver, or over the road. Spending many nights away from home and many mornings starting his day before the sun peeked over the horizon. He was, like much of middle America, a working person. Americans who work with honor and try hard every day.
What many of us didn’t know until his funeral, was the honor he showed as a driver. He drove three million miles without an accident. No small feat considering he drove with the manic and crazed drivers of the northeast. He was named Driver of the Year in the state of Maine. An honor he also held with the company whose trucks he drove many years.
He was a good man
When Kenny would walk into his favorite bar for a meal and beer, his friend Travis whose band played at the bar, would interrupt his song and sing “Tombstones Every Mile.” A song about the dangerous life of a truck driver. At his funeral Travis sang this song for Kenny one last time.
Kenny was well educated and while he didn’t go to a four year college; he studied life. He knew the myriad of laws with which he had to comply, and he learned how to represent his company with dignity. Much like many other middle class workers. But unlike many other workers, his company respected this great man and didn’t ship his job away to some foreign land.
Over the years, I moved and traveled away from my home state of Maine, like a wandering Marco Polo. Visiting lands and places that removed me from the silent heroes of life like Kenny. In following his last battle, I learned from Kenny’s battle about the importance of faith and the life of middle America.
Some politicians might call people like Kenny “deplorable.” They aren’t. Some might ignore a quiet man sitting in a corner, but they would miss the undercurrent of faith. While others might brag about their lives, Kenny sat quietly with a resolve of faithful morality. This is how most of Middle America lives, and are largely ignored. They are part of the exhausted majority.
A simple faith
Kenny’s faith was simple, his favorite song was “How Great Thou Art.” This was his entire theology and no more. God was great and he should follow. Simple and plain, Kenny saw no need to complicate, just have faith. Kenny wasn’t ‘deplorable” by any standard, nor are many other middle Americans. They work hard and pay their taxes, while their politicians call them names.
Kenny would be the first to say he wasn’t special, that many others lived the same way. It makes me think about the silent heroes of our middle class, who live a quiet American life of faith and deserve a moment to be honored. As well, Kenny’s story belongs in my new book, Your Faith Has Made You Well. But it was being printed before he died. He was a modern hero of faith, like so many others.
Thank you Kenny, for the wonderful story that was your life, lived with honor and dignity. And thank you for representing the group Bill de Blasio says is long ignored.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.” His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.”