O Captain! My Captain!

“I’m just here minding my own business.”  Tim Moore made this announcement every time he entered Manna House to get coffee. Tim was a long term guest who started coming when he was experiencing homelessness. In recent years he had a place to live, and he worked steadily at “the yellow store” down the street from Manna House. For the past year or so Tim struggled with a variety of health issues. He died this past Sunday at work.

“I backslid again and I need you to pray for me.” Tim approached Moses every time he came to Manna House and asked for prayer. Tim was well aware of his faults and failings and his need for prayer. Of the guests who call upon Moses to pray for them, Tim was the most consistent. So it was that a regular part of the scene at Manna House was Tim and Moses in a corner or on the front porch, with Moses’ arm extended and hand placed on Tim’s shoulder, with both of their heads bowed, praying.

“I’m going to get married.” For most of last winter and into the summer, Tim would tell me on Monday of his plan to get married. On Tuesday he would express doubts. On Thursday he would tell me the wedding was off. This went on for months. Finally late last summer he told me, “I’m out of this getting married business.” I still do not know what began the cycle or what ended it. But Tim entertained me and many other volunteers and guests with his marriage announcements.

“He was a good man in his own strange way,” a guest said in response to the news of Tim’s death. That seems an apt description of Tim. There was a fair amount of bluster about him (he really never did mind his own business). He often had lively exchanges with other guests about nothing in particular. Yet the two photos I have of him are of him alone. In the one he sits by himself at a picnic table in the backyard of Manna House. He is not facing the camera (he usually did not like having his picture taken). In the other photo he is standing alone in the living room of Manna House looking toward the front door. I had taken the picture one morning when things had gotten slow and he agreed to be photographed.

“I’m going to miss Tim,” said another guest. He was echoed by many others. The chill and grey clouds on this morning gave apt expression to the gloom I felt about Tim’s passing. There is a lot of coming and going among guests at Manna House. There are new people every day who arrive for hospitality, and there are many who I see for a month or so and then they are gone. It is like the ebb and flow of a tide bringing up flotsam from the chaotic sea of poverty. And then there are guests like Tim, who faithfully arrive each day, not because they need much, but because they have made Manna House their own. Tim was more like the captain of a small boat who came into the harbor each morning with yarns to tell of what he had seen on that sea of poverty.

Tim’s death hits hard. Thinking of Tim as a captain, Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” that I first heard in “Dead Poets Society” came to mind. It seems apt on this day of learning that Tim has died. I’ll share the first and last stanza:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                            But I with mournful tread,

                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

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