“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk with others.”
– African proverb
All of my life, I have had the good fortune to have been surrounded by good people. Some have been kinfolk, but a whole bunch of them have not.
These good people have heaped love and praise and kindnesses on me without expectation of anything in return. They have provided me with comfy beds, memorable meals, pre-pandemic hugs, caring cards, and the kind of laughter that rises up even in the silence of my office.
What makes a person do that – be good to others?
I used to think it was Jesus who prompted people to be good towards one another. But that was before I witnessed the Christian community turn on one another over something as mundane as a mask, before I witnessed the people who claim Jesus as their Savior ridicule and say the most vile things about a Jewish woman who spent her entire life fighting for the welfare of others.
Maybe Jesus still prompts people to be good to one another, but honestly I don’t see much of Jesus in the people who go about shouting his name the loudest. Mostly what I see in those Jesus people is just pure hate and lust for power. I often see racism in them. I hope they get whatever it is they think they deserve. I have a feeling when it’s all said and done the Jesus they claim to serve will be the very one who says to them: I knew you not.
He may even say it to me.
I miss the Jesus I once knew. I miss the goodness I always believed that Jesus evoked in others. And in me. But I no longer believe that people are good to one another because they are embrace a specific religious doctrine.
I have met far too many people from a variety of different faith walks, and some from no faith wall at all, who embody kindness and compassion and deep and abiding love for others. And, yet, even as I type this I can hear some in the Evangelical community to which I once belonged pushing back with their claims (dogma) that all good works count for nothing without Christ.
Yeah, I don’t believe that either. I did for far too long of a time, but no longer.
I believe that being kind to people matters, whether you mark that kindness up to some religious compulsion or just because we are all part of the human race.
Oh, yes, I wholeheartedly believe loving people matters, whether you love people because Jesus compels you to, or whether you love them because life is short and you want to spend it loving as many people as you can.
My friend Bob Poydasheff loved people, unabashedly.
I have no idea what his religious beliefs were, or whether he had any at all. That’s something we never discussed. But what I do know of Bob is how big he loved others. Bob greeted everyone with a warm embrace, a kiss on the cheek and a smile that could outshine a rising sun.
I first met Bob when I was working as a reporter for my hometown paper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Bob was mayor of Columbus, Georgia, at that time.
I cannot remember for the life of me what story I was working on, usually I could rattle off such a thing, but I remember clearly sitting in Bob’s office and talking for over an hour about his journey from the Bronx to Columbus.
I was struck first by his unforgettable Bronx accent.
Columbus is an old South city. A military town, home to Fort Benning. And indeed it was the military that drew Bob, a retired Colonel, to the Fountain City. Although Columbus has long been hospitable to the many retired military who settle there, the positions of power in the city have historically belonged to the old money families in town, not to Yankees from the Bronx.
Even now, I can hear Bob’s booming voice calling out in that r-laden accent foreign among those who are given to drawling out every vowel. “Karrren! When arrrre you moving home?”
When Bob would ask me about moving home, he always meant, when was I going to move back to Columbus. Every year for decades now, Bob has sent me beautiful embossed Christmas cards. In every card, Bob would urge me: “Come back to Columbus. Move home.”
Bob urged me to move back to Georgia more often than my kinfolk and childhood friends who lived in Columbus did. As mayor, he even held a ceremony and gave me the Keys to the City in one of those heavy on the press gaggles at the Government Center. It was during the blur of the book tour for my memoir, After the Flag has Been Folded (HarperCollins). I had no family there to celebrate the event with me. My husband didn’t even remember that Bob did that.
I can’t speak for other writers, but I always imagined and hoped there would be moments like the one I shared with Bob. That moment when you return to the place that helped raise you, not as the trailer park kid who struggled to make sense of the way life breaks people, but as an accomplished woman seeking to make proud the people and the town who helped heal you, the way Columbus and its people did me. Bob was the one who made that memory possible for me.
During our first meeting, all those years ago, Bob spoke of his devotion to the city, and of his distinguished 24-year military career. A JAG officer he served as chief counsel to many of those involved in the My Lai Massacre. Bob and I spoke that day of Lt. Calley, who was still living in Columbus at the time. And, of course, we spoke of my dad.
Years later, when Paul Pierce, the producing artistic director of the historic and beautiful Springer Theater, adapted Mother of Rain for the stage, Bob and his wife Stacey came to the show. Afterwards, during a Q & A session Paul hosted, Bob stood und made a lovely speech, closing it out once again by urging me to “Come home.”
Over the years, Bob and I shared emails, and phone calls and hugs whenever we ran into each other. When my own mother died in 2012, her grandchildren spoke at her service. Each one of them referenced how grandma made them feel like they were her favorite grandchild.
Bob possessed that same gift. He made everybody feel as those they were his favorite person in the whole entire world. Many in Columbus who knew him simply called him “Uncle Bob”.
I’m sure he had his dissenters. Mayors, attorneys and military leaders always do, and Bob was all three of those things. But when it was announced that Bob died this week after a brief illness, I read post after post of remembrances and almost everyone recalled the same thing – how vast Bob’s love for others was.
Deep as the ocean.
Wide as the horizon.
To be on the receiving end of Bob’s hugs and his great big love for humanity was a gift. I always left Bob’s presence feeling like a better person, and I know I’m not the only one.
Bob Poydasheff was a cheerleader for people, for humanity, for the City of Columbus.
It was as if he had been given a special dispensation to remind all that he met that inside each of us is a good person desperately trying to leave the world a better place.
Bob Poydasheff set the example for us.
I highly doubt there will be any Rest in Peace for Bob. He’s probably already busily organizing souls and urging them on to do more good works.
The way he did for all of us.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a displaced Georgia girl who sometimes imagines moving home. She is the author of eight books, fiction and non-fiction.