this morning i remember miss ollie's nephew, a man named leethern. the contrast between leethern and miss ollie is as great a contrast as one can imagine. where miss ollie was a small woman who appeared large to my young eyes by her manner of carrying herself and her gentle, precise speech, leethern was a huge man, well over six feet tall. his skin was a deep brown. he walked with a slovenly gait and spoke in the same way. he was missing one eye, and where the eye should have been there was scar tissue that gave his face a frightening appearance to the young boy that i was. he had scars on his arms from many knife fights, and when he failed to appear in my grandparents' store for long periods of time, we knew that he was either in jail or recovering from the injuries of another fight.
as many of my grandparents' customers did, leethern kept a running tab at the grocery store. from time to time, he would have a little money that my grandmother said probably came from winning at craps and would pay something on his tab. miss ollie often inquired about leethern's debt to my grandparents, and if it had grown too large, she would pay it down to a level she hoped he could pay off himself. when she asked about what leethern owed, she would tell my grandmother that she worried about him constantly and waited for the day she would learn he had been killed in a fight. she asked my grandmother each time she paid on his bill to please let leethern have a little food on his tab so that she wouldn't have to worry about him going hungry.
i never saw them together, and it was my impression that she saw little of him, except when he needed money and would come by her home to ask for her help. i often wondered how someone like miss ollie could be realted to someone like leethern. my grandparents always treated leethern with kindness, and i believe they had some knowledge of his history that made them sympathetic to him, though they never spoke to me of what had happened to cause leethern to travel the destructive path that he was on. in time, as i matured, i too sympathized with leethern. he was a pathetic and tragic figure who stumbled through life without direction or purpose, and his deep sadness was apparent beneath the surface of his pretended toughness.
i don't know what became of leethern. i hope that he found redemption through the continued kindness of people like miss ollie and my grandparents, but i doubt that was the case. after my grandmother had to close her store, i never saw him again. by that time miss ollie was gone, and there was no further chance of contact with leethern.
my prayer today is that we look beyond the outward appearance and actions of others, searching for the deep truths of their lives, treating people like leethern with respect and kindness, hoping always for their eventual abandonment of lives of self-destruction and their coming to know the redemptive power of love, love that we share with them without expectation of the reward of love being returned. shalom.