One final hug
I was pouring myself a second cup of coffee the other morning when I heard the news.
My friend Leon, a local lobsterman and a neighbor of mine back when I was living on Georgetown Island, had been shot and killed in what was referred too as a “domestic dispute.” I dropped back into my chair and stared out the window.
The story rambled on, eventually devolving into a repetition of those inane phrases that have become the broadcast equivalent of yellow crime-scene tape: “police have secured the scene”; “few details are being released”; the droning soundtrack of raw human tragedy.
For a split second I felt as though I was the one who’d been shot.
Gradually details began to emerge. Trust me, I won’t be rehashing them here. What on earth would be the point? The incident, which took my friend’s life, was simply one more heartbreaking variation on an increasingly familiar theme.
Apparently longing to recapture some vaguely imagined, bygone era, when “real men” settled their “domestic disputes” with six-guns on the streets of Dodge City, America has transformed itself into a nation bristling with firearms of every conceivable size and description.
It won’t be long before folks start driving Sherman tanks to the local gun show. Maybe they already are.
Then, is it any wonder that the sort of altercation we once rightly expected would result in a black eye or at the very worst a broken nose, is now likely to require the services of a funeral director? I think not. But, it’s deeply troubling all the same.
To anyone familiar with the ways of Maine lobstermen, a pragmatic, straightforward bunch of folks, it will come as no surprise that my friend Leon lost his own life while attempting to help out another person in need, a not entirely uncommon occurrence among this particular demographic group. That part of the story at least made some sense to me. Frankly, it’s about the only thing that did.
The man I knew, the neighbor I respected and admired for nearly 20 years was recognized in our little community as a person who expended a lot his own time, energy and resources in the service of others less fortunate than himself. He was just like that.
According to Leon, though, he hadn’t always embraced such a positive approach to life. In fact, after I’d known him a while I realized that his outward generosity was merely his way of living out a simple inner conviction.
Since others had been there for him when he’d hit “rock bottom,” Leon figured the very least he could do was return the favor. How do I know all this? That’s easy. I was one of those “others” he helped.
Well over six feet tall with the kind of workingman’s heft you don’t get from training at the local gym, Leon was the obvious guy to call when I needed help hauling my 26-foot, half waterlogged wooden boat out of the vacant lot across the street from my house, through the center of town and onto a nearby public boat ramp.
Did I say nearby? I suppose that’s always a relative term.
Arriving by the dawn’s early light in a massive, bashed up 4X4 pickup truck, its bed randomly splattered with scraps of rancid bait fish, Leon and a couple of his burly friends got right to work.
They ended up spending most of one bright, sunny Sunday wrestling the bulky vessel through the town’s narrow streets and eventually launching her into the mighty Kennebec.
Of course, since he refused to take any of my money, I ended up paying him off in Amato’s Italian sandwiches, soda and chips.
It was around this time that I began to suspect Leon’s greatest strength had nothing to do with his physical size, quite the opposite.
Somehow, my friend with the big heart and the burning desire to help others had acquired strength of a very different sort, the kind which can only be gained via a rigorous coarse of study at that most unforgiving of all the institutions of higher learning: The School of Hard Knocks.
When I called my wife to relay the sad news, she gasped then wept. After a long pause she said, “Leon was why Jesus liked to hang out with fishermen.”
Then she added, “Getting a hug from Leon was like getting a hug from God.”
I particularly like that image. I think I’ll hang onto it.
It’s comforting to imagine my friend finally receiving an endless supply of the very thing he so freely gave to all of us.
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