Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)
TITLE: Thank You Mr. Baxter
By Lois Farrow
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“Good morning, Michael,” he would greet me every Sunday morning, peering up at me as I tried to slip past, that ever-present smile radiating joyfulness. I wondered what it would take to remove that smile. Even when his wife died a few years before, the smile remained, albeit a little tremulous for a few weeks.
“Why does he keep hovering, blocking the foyer,” grumbled the official welcoming team. William didn’t hear them. He smiled and greeted, greeted and smiled, making sure visitors and regular attendees were treated alike. It seemed he never forgot a name, and on those occasions when I couldn’t get past him in a hurry he would enquire about my study, know which exams were coming up, what was happening in my family. I don’t know how he knew, I must have let slip more than I realised; he had that way of getting you to say stuff you thought you’d never tell.
Once the service started Mr. Baxter would take his place near the back of the church, lifting his voice in worship, and then listening with rapt attention when the Pastor gave the sermon.
On the odd occasions that I thought of him during the week I wondered if he must be lonely, especially with his wife gone. He never seemed to invite questions about himself; he was always asking about me. I knew he had a daughter somewhere, but we never saw her. He was always there, though, never missed a Sunday, beaming, immaculate, and always, always interested in others.
His death came as a surprise. We thought he would be there forever, getting in the way, cheerfully asking after everybody. Sitting at his table, they said, surrounded by papers, head slumped onto his arms where he sat.
There were a surprising number of people at the funeral. The daughter was there, dressed in black, sitting upright in the front row. I sneaked in the back, not worried about the lecture I was missing, just wanting to be there to honour the funny old man.
An awed hush fell when the papers on his table were explained. One for every person in the church, the minister said, and one for all his neighbours and friends. Listed under each persons name were basic details, and a list of things to pray about.
Later I was handed an envelope. Inside was ‘my’ piece of paper. My face burned when I saw what old William had written. There was every exam listed for the last three years, with PTL after the ones I had passed, and ‘try again’ after the one I had missed. There were my family details, little smiley faces marked against each one. I thought of how little I knew him. Why hadn’t I taken more interest in his life? Why had I always been in a hurry to sneak past instead of giving him a few minutes of my time?
I think of all the busy people at church and their wonderful work to make the place function. Then I’m reminded of Mr. Baxter, and I’m convinced his contribution is the most outstanding of the lot. Hidden from sight he spent his days in prayer for each one of us, and only God knows the impact on the church of those prayers. I know I, for one, am grateful.
Thank you Mr. Baxter.
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