This mid-December’s warm southerly winds that have been shocking our Hudson River Valley town – not to mention the presence of 1000 squealing seagulls – have me thinking not of White Christmasses but of strolls along the sands of New Jersey. How quickly i laid hands on a precious memory of an early morning adventure at the beautiful beach of Townsend’s Inlet, when my kids and i were greeted with an awesome surprise from Mother Nature. The tide had come and left upon the shore a large cast of crabs. And i don’t mean some little critters. i’m talking about horseshoes! Fascinating…frightening… all over the place! Brave Bern and Danny found some lying on their backs, multi hands/claws just BEGGING for help – picked them right up and flipped them over! How proud i was of them!
Last year a good buddy of mine, John Fasulo, passed away, and as i set out from my home to his funeral over ten miles away, across the Hudson River, i found myself the entire way behind a U-Haul, which advertised on its back “Need a Pick-Up?” During the service the family invited anyone to share what John meant to them, and i immediately made reference to that sign in front of me. It was so appropriate and just what i had been thinking – and thanking God for in this good man. John Fasulo was such a pick-me-up sort of man!
John was like me, a journeyman through and through. He had been a very well known photographer and television cameraman – and lover of all things railroad, ever on the move. For his last several years, however, my friend also had a most wicked case of Parkinson’s Disease, slowly twisting him like a pretzel, almost to the point of breaking his back. But John had, above all else, an indomitable spirit that would never allow him to give up or let his love for life be stolen. In fact, the more that rotten illness bent him over, the taller, the greater he was to me and to my wife. One snowy day she happened to be jogging, and up ahead there was John jogging as well as he could, until he flipped and landed over a snowbank. Unable to right himself, along came my wife who quickly scooped him up and plopped him back on his feet. “We all go down at times, John, but keep on, my brother,” she told him. And John rewarded her with a most precious, loving gaze that lingers with her still.
How often this is the case in life, just like the story from the Jersey Shore! Either we happen upon a brother or sister knocked-down, flipped over by a bad wave of life. Or we are the ones in the desperate predicament. That morning by the sea i looked and could not count how many mean kids were flipping crabs ONTO their backs, as we so sadly, so often, do to one another. All we need is a pick-up. “We all go down at times,” my wife said. Whoever denies it is either a liar or – even worse! a very sad perfectionist who does not let himself go down, or just never let anyone see him fall and – God forbid – cries to another for help!!! My buddy did not care if the whole world saw him go down, so long as NO ONE saw him give up!!! AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, what my wife and i would add, that John Fasulo could never ever have counted how many HE flipped over or picked up, especially by his attitude. Parkinson’s may have broken the body, which is just a shell, but not the man. In fact, his SPIRIT still flips me around.
i don’t recall even once, John touching me, but for years and years he and trusty Mack, his almost human dog, were the first guys i met every morning – at Bob’s Corner Store over coffee on my way to work. Their gentle eyes, especially through those agonizing years, and kind words, set this morning crab on his merry way, and many times throughout the day, when i felt vicious waves belting me from side to side, the thought of Good John n Mack set me back on solid ground. How i miss those two buddies, and how often i have reflected that none of us can have a nobler purpose in life than simply to flip over another in need. It strikes me now that such is even the REAL WONDER OF CHRISTMAS, that God came Himself in Human Form to know us, our every need, and to lend His Own Hand, His Own Heart, to pick us up.