On my list of memorable characters I generally talk about doctors, teachers, or patients who have influenced me and my career. This person was neither.
Now, my father, a member of the “Greatest Generation”, who survived a Depression and fought a Great War, gave me a great piece of advice… an admonition I often repeat to patients who are struggling with life: “Son, whatever you do, spend your time and make your living at something that you want to get up and go do every day.”
This blog is not about my father’s advice. It’s about one of my role models who gave me an example of such a life. His name was Tommy. He wasn’t a doctor. He wasn’t one of my teachers. He wasn’t really a friend, although he knew my face and said, “Hi”, when he saw me.
He was a mentally handicapped busboy.
At Wake Forest where I captained the swimming team, on many a Saturday morning after a four-mile swim practice, we would descend upon the local IHOP to consume the first 2000 or so calories of our 5000 calorie daily intake. Stacks of pancakes and large servings of eggs and sausage.
Tommy poured our water. Kept our coffee cups filled. (and everyone else’s). Cleared and set the tables in a flash and made them sparkling clean and immaculate. All the while he had an angelic smile on his face. Said hello to everyone… more than once.
He was always looking for something to do. If a crumb hit the floor he was on it. Nothing escaped his notice.
His favorite activity (if the day happened to be slow) was taking the plastic letters out to the marquee under the IHOP sign and changing the message for the manager. He couldn’t spell, of course, so the manager wrote out the block letters on a piece of paper and gave him the proper ones stacked in order in a plastic bucket. He would carefully replace the old letters on the board with the new ones using the long extension-arm suction cup. Then he would stand back to admire his handiwork and come back into the store beaming with pride to resume his busy rounds among the tables.
He had an IQ of 80… maybe. He would never be a rocket scientist. But he was the best busboy I have ever seen.
And he loved every minute of it.
As I watched him humming about, busy and content, I pondered my own restless soul and wondered if I would be as happy some day at my chosen life’s work.
Yup. I believe I am.