“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.”

– Romans 15:1


I had seen him earlier in the afternoon, hovering close to my book outpost. I was doing a book signing in a small town in North Carolina. Because I am a relatively unknown writer, in a few hours not many come to have a book signed. However, I love doing them, because I get to see and meet real humanity. People who have stories that inspire and teach me. Near the end of the day, he finally came forward and introduced himself. Mark was at one time married, but he had lost his wife to an affair with a local minister. He had at one time been a traffic reporter, but now he was a part-timer, a filmmaker. And now he was also mostly lonely, but he had a story to tell.

In the past few years, he had moved to a trailer on a pond. The pond was the habitat of twenty-five ducks, who got free food and health care through Mark. Long ago he had dropped his dreams of riches and instead turned to a life of without material things. When he writes to his friends and family, he uses a typewriter and not a computer, feeling that it is far more intentional than a hastily crafted e-mail.

Our conversation was very one-sided; he went from one story to another. This lonely man had found an audience in me and had an incredibly urgent desire to tell me everything. As I was listening, I prayed for guidance with what I should do. Do I continue to sit and just listen, or do I cut him short? A wave of empathy swept over me, and I settled back and listened for a half hour as this earnest, faithful, and kind man revealed his life story.

Finally, it was five and I had to go, the book signing was over. We exchanged cards, and I will reach out to him again, even though he will be the only one talking. I was giving validation to a lonely man, by listening. A good man with an earnest and faithful heart. Too old now to change his future and spurned by a society that considers age a disability. I gave, but I also received. I learned about what was important. Not how many books I sold, but the uncovering of a wonderful person who understood life.

It’s not just about giving our material possessions. The lesson for me that day was that I could also give my ear to hear and my time, and for that small sacrifice on my part, I received a spiritual gift in return.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman