His name was Floyd and he was a sailor. He lived aboard his boat. Floyd’s skin was the texture and color of pine bark and his hair white as flour. Floyd’s eyes called to mind the Willie Nelson song, “Blue Eyes crying in the Rain.” Floyd was a man who, through forty years of sailing the Caribbean, had sucked the marrow from life’s bones, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
I met Floyd one summer afternoon when he stopped by my study at the church. He dressed like a poor Jimmy Buffet. His manner was casual with a touch of formal sincerity. “Reverend,” he said, “I could use some help. I could use a little direction…on how to give back. I’ve been a taker for the last forty years. A rum drinking free spirit who watched out for his own skin and did whatever he liked. But the Lord has been good to me. Hell of a life, I’ve had.”
Floyd continued, as if his speech was forty years in the making. “I need to give back, but I’m not much of a church man. I thought you might be able to help me…show me how I might help other people. That’s what my life is missing. And I don’t have much time left.”
Jesus often told his disciples that the greatest people are those who are servants of others. And the Dali Lama once said, “A more altruistic attitude is very relevant in today's world…When we say “others” and when we think of others, we will no longer dismiss them as something that is irrelevant to us. We will no longer feel indifferent.”
Floyd did not put his desire to help others in quite this way. But the soul of his desire was similar: he no longer saw “others” as irrelevant. He saw “others” as integral to his own happiness and well- being. He wanted to serve.
I found things for Floyd to do around the church and community. He became a fixture. He seemed to come alive as he helped other people. For almost a year Floyd found little ways to give back; and giving back gave his life renewed meaning.
One day Floyd didn’t show up. Several more days passed. I went looking for him at the marina. His boat bobbed like a cork in the restless wind. A week later his daughter called to tell me that Floyd died. The big “C,” she said.
Floyd taught me something: it’s never too late to serve others. It’s never too late to give back. The night that Floyd’s daughter called me on the phone I took a bottle of rum down to the beach. As the white moon rose above the horizon, I poured myself a glass and raised it in honor of a man who got it right, if only near the end.
May you learn to get it right—today.