We all have people that come into our lives and in doing so, as Robert Frost mused, it can make all the difference . My guardian angel, rumbled into my young adulthood in the guise of a six foot, eight inch ex-Notre Dame basketball player named Lloyd. At 24 years old, I was still leading a rather self indulgent lifestyle and had failed to realize that having left the ivory tower and ivy covered walls of college, I was laying a poor foundation for my future.
An intuitive friend introduced me to Lloyd, a 55 year old divorced health insurance salesman with a flaming red beard and a rapier like wit, who took me to lunch and within an hour became my mentor, confessor and closest friend. Over the months and years that followed, we became inseparable. Lloyd’s acerbic wit and self effacing humor was a bridge over our generational gap and my own deep canyons of self doubt.
Lloyd would routinely inventory all of his character defects as if to remind himself of the need to be self aware and to celebrate his own imperfection. He was always mocking his chronic selfishness by saying that his girlfriend, Dee, and he had only one thing in common – – “ we both love the same person….me “. He shared that humility meant “ not thinking less of one’s self, but just thinking of one’s self less of the time”. Lloyd would complain about his commitments and the numerous “ knuckleheads “ as he would refer to me and others, that he was shepherding through life. However, if you watched where his feet went, it was always in the direction of serving others and in doing so, finding peace and serenity – – two things that so completely eluded him in early in his life as he was pursuing his own needs, ambitions and material goals.
“ You have to give it, to get it” he would muse. Just another of his bumper sticker sound bites that would roll off his tongue as we discussed a problem or an issue at work. His field of vision was very clear as he plotted all of mankind along a continuum of humanity. On one end of the spectrum was self worship, self pursuit and often self centered fear. “ It’s the root of all evil” Lloyd would muse. “ Self centered fear is the trigger for each one of our own little pandora’s box of bad habits – envy, spite, disingenuousness. They all percolate up when we are afraid “ On the other end of his continuum of humanity were those that served others with complete disregard for themselves. “ You’ll find those that operate on the right side of the line ( serving others instead of themselves ) to be the happiest, most content and most durable in the face of crisis and catastrophe.” If I would start to complain to him about a self centered problem, he would just look bored and say “ can you hurry up and finish your whining so we can get back to talking about me.” That would usually cause me to laugh and realize how self absorbed I had become.
Lloyd’s theology of living was non traditional and the focus of his worship was “an old woman in an apple tree.” He would smile “ she yells at me and gives me advice the way my Irish grandmother used to.” I would look at him as if he had three heads. “ The point is” , he would share. “ my God is my business. It’s personal but there is no doubt in my mind that my higher power wants me to serve others, try the best I can but leave the heavy lifting to her “. As if to confirm he was not in control of his life, Lloyd’s computer screen had been programmed to read, “ Dear Lloyd, I won’t be needing you today. Love God “
How this irreverent, self centered ex-athlete became this gentle giant of wisdom was revealed to me over time the way a war veteran might reluctantly share his traumatic experiences under the safety of darkness, sitting on a veranda on a summer’s night. What I learned was that this man whose early years were marked by tremendous financial success, he had been adrift with no moral or personal compass to guide him. He ultimately was struck down, not unlike Saul on the road to Tarsus. Thus began, his transformation from as he would say,’ being all about him, to it becoming all about everyone else.’
As I raise my children and I listen intently to their self centered fears and their material concerns, I remind them that happiness may appear to temporarily come from getting what you want. But real joy comes from serving others and realizing that we are here to not get ahead of the other guy, but to get ahead of ourselves. I learned my life lessons from a guy who looked like the Jolly Green Giant. He became my best friend and the best man in my wedding. Sometimes good things do come in big packages.