He called me Mary Katherine. I called him Mr. McNabb. I do not even remember a first name. But he knew mine. His home was a dusty shack with dirt floors, and his resting place, an old wooden pole he leaned on because he had artificial legs from the knee down. He lost them in the war, but as a 9-year-old, I did not understand.
I found him, curiously rolling his own cigarettes, and the big wild rabbit close by in solemn observance of this practice. He was the only one that could get close to the trusting brown-furred creature. He watched as all of us children ran up and down the alley by his house, warning us of the troubles we would get into if we picked fruit from the neighbor’s tree, or wandered into that yard.
Watching him, I learned the value of every life. And if you watched me closely, you would see me rescue an earthworm desperately trying to move to cooler ground from the hot cement. I’ve been known to stop trucks after a deer ran through moving traffic, though I would not recommend it. And if there was a bumper sticker that said “I brake for turtles,” I would have one!
Mr. McNabb, the keeper of all things precious in God’s eyes. But there was another lesson learned from this gruff but huggable man. He could not work at a job, but he had a talent more special than could be taught. I often wondered about all the multi-colored glass found in his yard and what he could possibly do with it all. On a summer afternoon, I stopped by to see him and there they were, the most beautiful bird bath and flower planter I had ever seen. The broken pieces of glass had been intricately placed in wet cement that formed radiant patterns of light and color. And they served a purpose! Little birds perched on that bird bath as if in the most elegant bath. Flowers bloomed in the planter and yet were not as glamorous as the broken pieces of glass that had been assembled for their display. It was not until some years later that I was recalling this man who so secretly touched my life.
I thought of Jesus when he said “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away. All things are become new.” I am the broken glass laying on the ground… and through the blood of Christ, I am made new. I have purpose. He called me Mary Katherine. I call him teacher, friend.