Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Angel Has Returned to Heaven

"Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels." Heb 13:2

I have the honor of volunteering at our church's Food Bank. I love the people I meet and I love their stories. They come to us for food and for community. They come for coffee and perhaps for a hand on their shoulder. A touch. A connection to another human being which is often difficult to get when you live on the streets, have only the clothes on your back, and smell of tobacco. When you want to just sit and rest and not have to worry about someone hurting you or stealing what few possessions you have. Where you can share the wild thoughts buzzing around your head.
And they often give us so much.

Our newspaper has been filled for the last few days about this man, John Breaux, killed while collecting trash alongside a major road. Although not homeless, he was often mistaken as such.

I never met John but I have met some folks like him. I wish I'd known John. He must have been something! A great man? Absolutely. An angel? Most assuredly. A saint? Sounds like it. Jesus? You decide. I know what I believe and I know that our world was better with John in it.

Here's an article from the Rocky Mountain News:
'No one in town was more loved' By Bill Johnson
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
They began arriving shortly after sunrise Saturday, each of them holding a few flowers, maybe a basket of tea roses, a balloon or a sign they had drawn up in the hours since it occurred.

Young mothers held their children's hands, and husbands wrapped one arm around their wives, as they trudged through the weeds on the side of the busy highway where the man was killed.

Anna Fillmon wept openly as she scraped to no avail at the frozen ground with the plastic stem of the balloon she'd brought. Her husband, Rick, finally handed her his pocketknife.

"I saw him every single day," she said. "He touched every single person. I was on my way to Longmont (on Friday) when I first saw the police tape blocking the highway, and I just knew something bad had happened."

"I just saw the bike," Rick Fillmon said. "I saw the bags of cans on it. I knew."
It happened that way numerous times on Friday for the residents of Lafayette and Louisville. My wife, who saw the tape, also wept.

The Centaurus High School kids who had rushed to the overpass bridge just north of South Boulder Road on U.S. 287 shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Friday saw the blanket covering the body. They saw the bicycle. They knew.

John Breaux was dead.

To this moment, it still does not seem possible. You have to live in one of these two towns to fully understand it.

The first time I met John Breaux, I almost cursed at him because I thought I was going to have to beat him up.

I was in the long-since-gone Koala berry consignment shop, finishing up the paperwork on the sale of my son's bunk bed. John Breaux came in.

He was a man in a tattered jacket, filthy blue jeans and a torn and dirt-covered checked shirt. Beneath a watchman's cap flowed wild matted hair that framed a face buried beneath a dark and equally wild-looking beard.

He began grabbing things, including the young daughter of the woman who owned the store. I was looking for something to hit him with when the toddler giggled and began cooing, "Uncle John."

There was hardly a day after that that I did not see John Breaux. Later, that same weekend, we moonlight bowled together. He high-fived me wildly with each strike he put down.

They poured in all day Saturday with flowers and balloons - long lines of people waiting to add to the memorial.

"He was always around, you know, opening doors for you, telling you jokes," Krista Beck, 49, said, wiping tears from her face. "One summer at the Louisville Street Fair, he had seen me in panic and helped me find my son, who'd walked away. He was always there."

By 11 that morning, a sign had gone up, saying there would be a "meeting" for John Breaux at the Albertson's on South Boulder Road. I figured a couple of dozen - 50 people tops - would show.

By 5 p.m., nearly 500 people had gathered in the market's parking lot. The local pizza shop owner had set up a P.A. system next to his van. Music played.
"Why shouldn't I be here?" a Lafayette firefighter told me as he stood with members of his crew next to their rig, its blue and red lights flashing. "No one in this town was more loved than that man."

"I had the flu on Thursday, but I still worked," said Brianna Moon, 17, of Lafayette, a courtesy clerk at Albertson's.

"And John stayed with me the four hours I worked, helping me bring the carts back and cleaning the room where we keep them. He did that for me every day. On Thursday, I thanked him and told him goodbye. It was the last time I ever saw him."

It went on like this for nearly two hours, residents, business owners and the mayors of the two cities taking to the P.A. system to tell yet one more story of John Breaux's selflessness and kindness.

I filled an entire notebook with stories people told me of John Breaux. I could fill this newspaper with them. And it still wouldn't do him justice.

As wild and scary looking as he was, people in Lafayette and Louisville absolutely loved him, the way he opened doors, smiled at you, made you feel right no matter how bad your life at that moment seemed to be.

Students of all ages called him "Jesus," or "Biker Jesus," since you rarely saw John Breaux 15 feet away from his bike.

"I used to give him $20 a week until he begged me to stop," said Larry Stallcup, the former Lafayette police chief who owns the Bingo Mine. "I don't know, truthfully, how things will be the same."

"He rolled a 274 on his last night here with us, Thursday night," said the woman manning the desk of the Lafayette bowling alley.

John Breaux was 57 years old.

He died the way he lived - picking up the trash the rest of us leave behind - when a Dodge PT Cruiser came off the highway right at him.

The official version is that he saw the white car, tried to run behind a tree to dodge it. It got him anyway.

"Stay with us, John," a woman who was first on the scene implored him.

A 62-year-old woman, said now to have been under the influence of prescription medication for dementia, remains in custody on a charge of vehicular homicide in John Breaux's death. Witnesses reported seeing her asleep at the wheel at the time of the collision.

At noon on Tuesday, people were still leaving flowers at the memorial, which now includes two 12-speed bicycles painted both white and copper.

Look, I am a rapidly aging newspaper guy who has witnessed so much over the years. Yet I have never once witnessed, nor ever heard of, a small-town outpouring such as this.

Never, and trust me here, has one ever been more deserving.

© Rocky Mountain News


yammy said...

i really don't enjoy crying right before I leave for work.
That was such a sweet story.

Freeda C.J. said...

I'm a few years late reading this, but something inspiring never expires, I think.

It is hope-inspiring to know about such wonderful, kind person and how the town's people looked past the superficial to see and reciprocate kindness.

Bella said...

Never too late to read about such an angel!

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