You may be quick to categorize someone unlike yourself. We’ve all been guilty of it a time or two. Their Levi's are dirty and limp from daily living. Skin is weathered and face has a salt and pepper stubble ... I’m guessing a drug store disposable razor is reused more often than it should be. Hair is long and greasy, pony tail is thin. Hands are calloused and dry. His honest occupation involves axle grease and tools.
You see them walking about, paying cash at the grocery store or driving their rickety truck with their only known companion leaning happily out the passenger side window ... a happy canine with its wet tongue flapping in the wind.
What is your immediate thought? An old hippy? Someone who may have chosen an easier, less structured lifestyle? An individual who no longer lives by society's expectations? Or maybe you gaze upon them with envy, having the courage the “stick it to the man,” living on their wits and God’s good humor.
What if I told you this man had once played by the rules. Had once been a USMC officer, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who flew rescue missions, rescuing injured and dead soldiers ... often flying into enemy territory risking his own life in order to save others. Maybe this man later resigned his commission, receiving his Ph.D. in physics and later becoming a scientist, developing rockets that were launched to the moon.
His story was real, only heard in fragments and whispers from his own mouth. Why he walked away from his life of professional success and stability, one can only speculate. He did say once that he’d done some horrible things. Most believe it was his experiences in Vietnam that caused his withdrawal from society. He eventually became a recluse, moving deep into the hills of Steinbeck Country in California.
Whatever his reasons, to the residents of the mountain, he became an important figure, yet a coveted secret to strangers inquiring about a man by the name of John Taylor. To make extra money, he repaired cars for those he knew. Seemed an appropriate and alternate vocation for someone with a mechanical background. Yet, punctuality and sense of urgency was not one of John’s priorities. It would often take weeks, and when he became sick, months before ones car was ready. People didn’t complain. Knowing John and his mechanical ability (plus he was inexpensive) residents would give the car to John and wait until passing him on the road for a verbal confirmation of completion. If they wanted it done in a timely fashion, they’d go to town.
Since people were no longer John’s true source of companionship, animals filled the void nicely. It made sense. They never argued or talked to him, were always happy to see him and loved him unconditionally. They didn’t care about his past, present or future, how clean he was, what kind of car he drove or how much money he had (or lack there of). If residents left town, John was the caretaker of the flocks. Your car wouldn’t be repaired in a timely fashion, but you could rely on John to feed your horses, dogs, chickens, goats and even barn cats.
Many people took care of John. He lived in a small trailer on the property of a mountain resident, rent free. All his tools, scrap metal and any other necessities were kept in his weighed down, rusted, old Chevy truck. He was a small man with a thin frame, always sitting straight with his legs crossed. Occasionally residents would leave baskets of scones on fences, knowing he would stop on his way down the mountain. He never passed on a free meal, especially when the menu included bacon or steak. He never drank alcohol, preferring black coffee or Coca-Cola.
A few weeks ago, the reclusive John Taylor was found on his mountain, on the side of the dirt road inside his rusted old truck. He ran off the road and was injured, angrily refusing help from all his mountain friends. The next morning, he managed to crawl from the truck, laying beside it. He was picked up by a neighbor, adamantly refusing to go to the hospital, only wanting to return to his trailer. The same neighbor checked on him the following morning. His condition had deteriorated and without argument, he was immediately taken to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, CA.
Within a week, John Taylor died. He’d been secretly deteriorating for years, finally succumbing to bladder cancer. It was then that many learned his name was not John Taylor. It was an alias he used to escape, to run away from and start over. And in his own way, he did. By refusing help for so long, maybe the only thing he wanted was to die on that beautiful mountain where he had become accepted and loved for who he was and not for what he had done.