Did you know Tom?
He showed his co-workers how to live
My boss died unexpectedly.
I knew something was amiss when I pulled into the parking lot and there stood our building supervisor, Richie D, holding the door open. He’s done that only once before, the morning after twin tornadoes struck Springfield and we lost electricity.
The building, an old brick church, looked dark again, but this time Richie D announced that Tom had died last night, at home on his couch.
I had been temporarily assigned to another project, but Tom was my permanent boss. In the last two months, I had spent little to no time with him because of that.
The morning of his last day at work was different. He and I shared the same modular wall, and before the workday started he came to my office, followed by another colleague, George. We chewed the fat about each of our own projects, goals, and recommendations. It was refreshing to talk with him like this again; I welcomed the reacquaintance.
Trim, he always wore a suit coat and dress pants and kept his white hair and white beard neatly groomed. Had you known that he had served in the U.S. Navy, and seen him in less refined clothing, you might have mistaken him for a crusty old sailor. With his white mane, you could have also mistaken him for a mall Santa Claus. Tom was both sailor and Santa.
The sailor part of him liked to smoke, drink beer, and sometimes go with other colleagues to the gambling boats. During the year that he was my boss, he smiled and laughed more as a Santa than played as a crusty sailor. I recall only one time when I heard him swear, and that was done privately.
Later that same day, he asked George and me to bring our building’s outdoor sign to the basement so he and another co-worker could paint it. George and I “coached” the painters while they worked. Tom, a senior manager, held the tiny brush in his hand and painted. He liked contributing, liked being helpful, and liked encouraging others. He had an uncommon ability to appreciate everyone’s quirkiness. That made Tom special.
That same morning, Tom ran into a former colleague. She had harbored some ill feelings toward him because she thought he had snubbed her several months earlier. I doubt that Tom had any idea that this woman felt that way.
When they bumped into each other, Tom held the door for her. After she walked through it, he gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her it was good to see her again, that he missed talking with her. At that moment the woman, ready to ignore him, felt all bitterness leave and wondered perhaps whether she had simply misread what she’d perceived as Tom’s snub.
There are several lessons here. The first is that the woman was set free by forgiveness, no longer a slave to bad feelings. She let that go. Imagine how she would have felt otherwise! Instead of regret and guilt, she had the gift of reconciliation. Forgiveness is a tunnel to freedom.
The second lesson is that Tom’s genuine expression of positive feelings made the forgiveness easy. Perhaps it was an act of love on Tom’s part. It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it? Whether he knew it or not, Tom gave that woman a gift, one for which she will be ever grateful. That last workday, Tom practiced the redeeming power of love.
With the death of friends and family we are reminded that life is temporary. It helps us to ask, “How are we to live?” Tom’s example answers that question persuasively.
People will remember us not for our accomplishments but by how we treated them. Tom Fishel was a good man. He loved his wife, his son and daughter, their dog, his garden. Everybody who knew him smiles fondly when they recall his memory.
Now Tom’s life has touched yours.
Go out in the world and live the way Tom showed us.
Thomas Bradley Fishel, 58, died March 31 at his home in Taylorville. He is survived by his wife, Karen; daughter, Lindsay; and son, William.