At this weekend’s horror/paranormal convention here in Kentucky, an older white- haired gentleman with a big smile kept coming by my table. I later found out that his name is Bill.
Each time he stopped by, Bill would lean in and tell me something he liked about my dad’s movies in a Kentucky accent so thick that I had to lean right back in to understand him.
Bill talks without punctuation. The James Joyce of Louisville, Bill barrels through each sentence til it becomes a paragraph til it becomes a monologue. I missed about every fifth word he said, but I usually got the gist of it: He loved my dad and my dad’s movies.
This morning, Bill decided to buy one of the photos I have on my table. “Thought I should have a picture of my favorite actor,” I gleaned, before Bill launched into yet another comma-less description of why he just loves my dad.
I was starting to glaze over a little, when Bill suddenly mentioned Dick Van Dyke. Now I’ve always loved Dick Van Dyke, so that got me re-focused.
Bill is apparently related to Dick Van Dyke. And the moment he shared that, I could see it. He looks like what he is — a Van Dyke cousin. Same tall lanky frame, same malleable face, same goofy expressions, same kindness in his eyes.
Well, from Dick and Jerry Van Dyke somehow we moved on to Burl Ives, to whom Bill is also related. He apparently has a favorite picture of himself as a boy playing marbles with Burl. From Burl, we moved onto an entire family tree of Kentucky legends related — I’m pretty sure but not totally positive — to the Hatfields and McCoys and maybe even Jesse and Frank James. But I wouldn’t swear to it.
I was starting to glaze over again and get that Sunday morning Biblical begats feeling . . . when Bill mentioned bloodhounds. Now I’m interested in anything to do with dogs, so he had me hooked again.
And that’s when it got interesting.
So Bill, I think, raises bloodhounds. Or at least he uses bloodhounds as an amazing metaphor. Because he talked about how bloodhounds find people who are lost, just like we, as Christians, should help people who are lost, too.
I'll admit. I flinched a little there.
Ever since I was a little kid, I've felt like there are Christians . . . and there are Christians. I consider myself a Christian — but by that I don’t mean someone who adheres to a particular religion but rather as someone who tries to live as an expression of Love, of Oneness, of human kindness and compassion, of doing unto others. I think that’s what the Christ is. But there has been an awful lot of violence and torture and killing done by people in the name of Christ. And those people call themselves Christian too.
Looking at Bill, I wasn’t sure which kind of Christian he considered himself to be.
I soon found out.
He went on: “Sometimes a little kid will come over to play hide and seek with one of the bloodhounds and when they’re done I tell them you know what you’ve saved a life here because you’re teaching them puppies how to find someone who’s lost because I tell them you see everything just works itself forward.”
The next part was a little fuzzy (his accent really is that thick -- and with no punctuation I sometimes felt myself wishing I had subtitles), but I think that one of the things that Bill does is help people who can’t afford to pay $12,000 for a trained bloodhound get them anyway. He said something about finding the right person for the right dog and the money didn't matter as much as that because the tax write off was fine by him.
It was starting to seem like Bill is a pretty giving guy.
Apparently his friends think so too. According to Bill, people are always telling him how amazing it is that Bill is constantly doing something for other people and always giving back.
To which Bill says, “Well that’s what we’re here to do because we’re all one.”
And then, without a single comma or period for the next five minutes, Bill gave a Sunday morning sermon in his thick Kentucky accent that I'll never forget about how we’re all here to help one another and how he helps people who have lost loved ones how he works with restaurants to make sure people can feed their families how he helps both the police and people who have been victims of police violence because our only purpose is to be good people and to be here for one another and to speak the loving truth to each other even though we’re being told to hate each other and even though we’re being told to be afraid of people who aren’t like us we have to see that we are all here for one another and no one should be being killed or hated because we’re all one.
When he finished, Bill smiled sweetly at me and said, “And so I just needed to get this picture of my favorite actor.”
And then he ambled off.
I had tears in my eyes.
Five minutes later, he came back to finish that sentence as though he'd never stopped talking: "Because it's all just a big circle like family like the McCoys and Burl Ives and my family and your dad and we just have to move things forward because if we don't do the right thing who will?"
With that he grinned just like Dick Van Dyke and left.
That was the last I saw of Bill.
One of the things I have loved the most about living on the road these past years and spending times in parts of the country that I don’t know well has been meeting people like Bill, who help me see through all the fear-based lies that we’re all told about why we should be wary of one another and so remember my own fundamental belief — that we are all one in Love.
Lately, however, driving through this country, I haven’t felt so sure of that. Sometimes when we get out of the car, my dog Allie and I are greeted with hostile glares where we used to be greeted by smiles. The feeling of hatred that is being spewed out from politicians is trickling down to the rest of us, and we’re wondering if we can trust one another.
Bill reminded me not only that we can, but that we have to.
As I’m pretty sure Bill would say it: That’s all we’re here to do in fact is to love one another because we are all one in Love and if we don’t do it who’s going to do it because we’re the only ones who can love one another whole.
Now whenever I feel doubt and I feel tempted to let someone else's fear wipe away my own smiling trust of my fellow human beings, I’m going to call Bill and his bloodhounds to mind and remember this: The Truth comes in lots of different accents and from many different places and traditions. But we know the Truth when we hear it, because it always sounds like Love.