Pretty Pink Rocks

I am holding a small pink rock. Rose quartz. It usually sits on my desk, just above my laptop.

Sometimes, when I can’t think of anything to write, I hold this rock in my hand and toss it up in the air a few times until either an idea comes to me, or I give myself a black eye.

I have been staring at this rock a lot during the quarantine. In fact, I spend a lot of time tossing this stupid rock into the air.

A long time ago I helped drive the church community van. It wasn’t my regular gig, I was just a volunteer. The van carried maybe five elderly people who needed help running errands. My friend Bobby was riding shotgun.

Mostly, we loaded and unloaded wheelchairs and walkers, took people to the post office, purchased their medications, carried them to the supermarket, or assisted them with “public bathroom ordeals.”

The elderly people lived alone. I believe the term the church used for them was “shut-ins.”

So we spent the whole day driving them around. Whenever one of the ladies would start complaining about low blood sugar, we stopped by a drive-thru window.

You should have seen our McDonald’s fiascos. Trying to explain the finer points of a fast-food menu to older people with severe hearing problems was like trying to rewrite the Magna Carta with a white crayon.

“Do you want SUPERSIZED FRIES, Miss Caroline?” one of us would ask.

“Huh? I don’t know anyone who died!”

“Fries!”

“I think he died thirty years ago!”

“FRIES!”

“I have to pee.”

And so it went.

One day, we stopped at an apartment to pick up an old man I’ll call Mister Johnny. He was a recluse, and as unfriendly as a copperhead. The inside of his apartment was probably the most disgusting place on planet earth. We rolled into his driveway to find him sitting on his swing, smoking a Winston.

“You’re late,” were his first words.

Immediately I could tell that this guy was Mister Personality.

We went to the grocery store. When we pulled into the parking lot, Bobby and I flipped a coin to see who would take Johnny Sunshine inside. And anyone who is familiar with Greek tragedies knows that I lost the coin toss.

Mister Johnny didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t walk on his own, or that he was half blind. So we hobbled through the store. Him, steadily cussing, holding the cart for balance. Me, politely smiling at nearby shoppers each time he said a swear word.

That’s when he asked if I played chess. I told him I didn’t know anything about chess, so he asked me to visit his house sometime. I was thinking to myself, “I’d rather chew off my own leg.” But the Baptist Guilt inside me kicked in. I went to his house.

When I arrived on his steps, there was no tough-guy act. He wasn’t even remotely the same grumpy man he’d been in the store. In fact, he was pretty nice. We played chess. And when it was time for me to go, he begged me to stay for supper. He even offered to cook.

I didn’t know how to kindly tell this old man that I would have rather licked a boar hog between the ears than eat anything prepared in his tetanus-laden kitchen. So I accepted his invitation. He cooked chicken. I do not believe his skillet had been washed since the Crimean War.

That night over supper he told me his whole life story. He beared it all. He said that he hated living alone, with no family to speak of, and he even started crying. Then he asked for my advice on whether he should move into a nursing home.

I felt way out of my league here, and a little foolish. I was a baby compared to this elderly man, with no advice to give. I didn’t know what to say, so I kept quiet.

And I will never forget when he said to me, “I’m scared of being alone.”

Before I left that night, he gave me a little pink rock as a thank-you gift. We even embraced.

Later that evening, when I got back home, I vomited my brains out after contracting the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t want to go into detail, but it was atomic.

That same month, Mister Johnny moved into a nursing home. Several of us helped him move his furniture into his new room. We helped him settle in, and I even set up the hummingbird feeder outside his window.

What a big day it was. The nursing home staff gave him a little party with balloons, music, bingo, and everything. And I saw a hard-faced old man melt like a stick of Land O’ Lakes.

A few years later, he died. Some of us went to his funeral. I expected it to be poorly attended since he’d been a recluse for so long. But I was wrong. There were lots of people in the congregation. Most of them were from the nursing home, almost everyone had a head of white hair.

Except for the young guy next to me, dressed in medical scrubs. He was a nursing home employee, and he was bawling so hard that he had to excuse himself. Before he left, I noticed a little piece of pink rose quartz in his hand.

Wherever he is, I’m glad Mister Johnny is not alone anymore.

18 comments

  1. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - June 17, 2020 10:45 am

    Just when you think you have nothing new to write, you come up with this jewel! What a sweet story.

    Reply
  2. Jeri Bishop - June 17, 2020 11:17 am

    A. genuinely touching, well-told story about something we all fear. Thank you, Sean, and God bless you.

    Reply
  3. Linda Broyles - June 17, 2020 11:37 am

    Another beautiful story. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Annie - June 17, 2020 11:41 am

    Once again, you touched my heart. I discovered your writings during this quarantine…and it has been such a bright spot in my day. In fact, I look forward to reading you each and every morning. And now with the quarantine subsiding and life trying to get back to some normalcy (with unbelievable difficulty), I find I still have that daily need to get inspired by your words….i need the laughter, the tears, the introspection….all of that….I just want to say THANK YOU!!!! Oh and by the way….I also have a rock….it is amazing what comfort can actually come from an inanimate object and now I know I am not alone 🙂

    Reply
  5. Shannon Brown - June 17, 2020 12:22 pm

    Once again, trying to stem the tears after reading this mornng’s poignant story. Loneliness is the saddest of all human feelings. Take care of your pink rock for it is a precious gift.

    Reply
  6. Tammy S. - June 17, 2020 12:29 pm

    “…I could tell this guy was Mr. Personality.” Lol That line cracked me up!! My husband is a pastor, and he has a saying he uses often, “hurting people hurt people.” It’s not an excuse for poor behavior but more like a reminder to those of us on the receiving end of someone else’s grouchy demeanor that maybe behind all the hurtful words there is just a hurting person. Kind of ironic he gave you a hard old beautiful rock. That made me smile. And your story shows us all, yet again, you have nothing but a soft beautiful heart. Thanks for this one!!

    Reply
  7. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 17, 2020 12:33 pm

    Mr. Johnny verbalized what I think all of us fear…being alone. This current situation has caused many to be alone and afraid. Your words are like a “human touch” each day, bringing warmth, caring, and laughter. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  8. Tammy S. - June 17, 2020 12:49 pm

    “…,I could tell that this guy was Mister Personality.” This line cracked me up!! My husband is a pastor and has a saying he uses often, “hurting people hurt people.” Not an excuse for bad behavior but more a reminder to those on the receiving end of someone’s grouchy words that there could be some hurt going on there. Kind of ironic that Mister Johnny handed out tough old beautiful rocks. And this story, yet again, shows your soft beautiful heart, Sean. Thanks for sharing!! Big hugs from NC!!

    Reply
  9. Teresa Tindle - June 17, 2020 1:10 pm

    Goodness Sean, I loved this story. People never know what someone who lives alone is going through. I live alone. I’m very quite. I can’t go shopping. So I’m kind of in quarantine all the time. I have 2 children. I know they love me. But you know when you have sons they tend to go with their wives families. I don’t mind. It’s just that I don’t see any of them as much as I would like too. I know their busy with children, jobs and now this terrible virus. But for me it has not been too bad. I have seen my sons much more than usual. I certainly hope and pray that things will soon be wonderful and this virus will finally play out. But for now I’m just enjoying the one on one time with my sons. It’s a lot of fun!

    Reply
  10. Gwen@ Monroe - June 17, 2020 1:14 pm

    “One is the Loneliest Number That You’ll Ever Do”. Thank you Sean for giving your time for this lonely person. And thank you for sharing your blessing.

    Reply
  11. Gwen@ Monroe - June 17, 2020 1:18 pm

    “One is the Loneliest Number That you’ll Ever Do.” Thank you Sean for giving your time for this lonely person. And thank you for sharing your blessing.

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - June 17, 2020 2:36 pm

    Baptist Guilt – – this former Baptist felt guilt yesterday because the Gravatar Gremlin compelled me to try to find out why the “Post Comment” didn’t work for me, annoying me and everybody else who follows this wonderful blog. So, today, I’ll make this brief: thank you, Sean, for remembering and telling us about Mister Johnny, who is not alone.

    Reply
  13. Jo Ann - June 17, 2020 4:26 pm

    Thanks for reminding us that no one is quite as they seem; there is always more underneath. This entire story proved that. Keep tugging at those places deep inside all of us. It keeps us thinking, feeling, and becoming better people.

    Reply
  14. Mark Daigle - June 17, 2020 4:47 pm

    Whoa! Powerful

    Reply
  15. MAM - June 17, 2020 9:47 pm

    Jo Ann, you nailed it with Sean’s reminder that no one is quite as they seem. And I like your comment to Sean to “keep tugging at this places deep inside all of us.” Sean, Your writing is marvelous, but the comments are almost as good!

    Reply
  16. Deborah Johnson Jones - June 17, 2020 9:56 pm

    Thank you for this. This… and every day because you bring something wonderful to my inbox. As a wise man (who doesn’t really consider himself wise, I’m sure) often says, in case no one told you today, you are loved.

    Reply
  17. Barbara Mc - June 17, 2020 10:20 pm

    You earned some of your stars in your crown driving that bug and visiting Mr. Johnny. Bless his (and your) heart.

    Reply
  18. Alice Roose - June 18, 2020 9:17 pm

    Dear Sean what a wonderful story and what a sweet man you are!Thank you for all your stories you always brighten my day!Love you!

    Reply

Leave a Comment