A Catholic Monthly Magazine

What I wish I’d said to Tom

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

I mentioned in the September Messenger that one day I would like to talk about Tom, someone to whom I owe amends as part of my 12-step addiction recovery program. It had not occurred to me that I would attempt it so soon but it keeps niggling me.

I met Tom in 2004. He and and his wife Gail were about to do a tour of Greece. My wife and I, Tom and Gail and about 20 others were gathered in Athens for a briefing by our tour guide.

Tom, I recall, kept asking questions and I (in my then typical judgemental way) kept thinking I wish this Yank would shut up. But then something odd happened. The four of us got talking and I began to like Tom and it quickly became obvious that Tom really warmed to me and I felt flattered. When I reflect, it was as if God wanted this relationship to form.

They were Alaskans. They hated – as Sue and I did – President George Bush’s response to the September 11 attacks on the New York Trade Centre and his subsequent invasion of Iraq, they had the same Christian values as we did, they had similar challenges with some of their children as we did then – in short they were two of God’s children with joys and sorrows and flaws just like the rest of us.

I mentioned “flaws” for a reason. There was one aspect of Tom that challenged me. He was often like a puppy dog. He wanted to be with us almost all the time. What time were we going to have breakfast? Where were we going for lunch? For Dinner? Which optional tours were we doing?

At times I felt suffocated. However, instead of having the courage to say to Tom that I needed a bit of space occasionally, I would complain to Sue who (correctly, I now appreciate) did not pamper my pathetic self-pity. Forgiveness

And yet I loved being wanted by Tom. And I genuinely enjoyed his company. He truly liked me, which – at a time I didn’t much like myself – was a huge bonus. We had so much in common including a shared despair about the tour guide whose knowledge was limited to everything you never wanted to know about olive trees.

One incident will demonstrate how much Tom loved me and how frustrated I felt and about which I now suffer great pangs of regret.

It was one of those hot as days, and Tom asked me if I felt like a beer. In fact I did but I did not have much money so I said no. So, he said, what are you going to do? I said I was going for a swim and he said, OK, I’ll come with you. Afterwards he said again that he felt like a beer and did I feel like one and, again, I said (I lied) no and then he said – and I will never forget this – “No, I don’t feel like one, either.”

At the time I thought to myself that this was hugely amusing. It was as if he was a puppet. I am sure he would happily have bought me a beer if I had had the courage to say I was struggling a bit financially. He had not shown himself at any time to be mean. It was, I reflected sadly, just my pride and my small-mindedness.

Before we left Greece, Tom and Gail made it apparent that they would love to visit Australia. They had already made clear that should we ever come to Alaska they would take joy in welcoming us, accommodating us, taking us wherever we wanted to go – in short treating us as family.

To my eternal shame, I did not respond likewise – partly because it would cost me money I really did not have and partly because I felt I would be overwhelmed.

We parted, but though I had their address I did not write to them.

The following year, 2005, I received a letter from Gail. Tom, who was a former minister, had (typically) joined the army of volunteers to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I think he may have been putting tarpaulins on houses. He was on a ladder. He fell, he died.

I was overwhelmed with grief. Above all for Gail, but mightily, too, for myself and for what I had lost. I longed to be able to say, Tom, please forgive me.

I have no doubt that Tom has forgiven me but it still weighs heavily.
I know too that Tom would have been the most steadfast of friends had I shared the secret of my addiction with him. He would have walked the path of my recovery with joy. Perhaps he is doing so right now as I sit here typing and weeping.

And if by some miracle a copy of this story should find its way to Gail in Juneau, Alaska, I humbly ask for her forgiveness as well, because – as far as I can recall – such was my shame and regret, I don’t think I ever responded to her now long-lost letter.

Let us all make haste to love while we can.   


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