Just over the Zoom Watchtower reader’s shoulder hangs the embroidered artwork—“Kindness Matters.” No surprise there. Kindness typified the man who coined the complete expression from which the snippet was taken. It was my favorite circuit overseer, long ago retired, who said, “Some things are black or white. But in all other things, do what is kind. Kindness matters.”
He died recently. Well into his nineties, he had been maintaining circuit overseer hours even in his old age. Perhaps he maintained them even in the nursing home he’d at last entered, for he was studying with one other resident and had seven attending Zoom meetings with him.
A man of empathy, intelligence, and unflinching honesty, he is mentioned several times in Tom Irregardless and Me, although only once by name. He is the only person of the book mentioned by name within his lifetime. Everyone else has been renamed, if not made up. His trademark expression, “just do the best you can” made him an unwavering source of refreshment, though there were a few hard-driving brothers who murmured their fear that some of the friends would “take advantage” and do nothing.
He is the brother who cut me off when I was carrying on about my wonderfulness—not carrying on per se, but decrying those not so wonderful, which amounts to the same thing. Here I was working with him in that city congregation—I worked with him a lot—and I started in about how some with growing families had left the gritty city for the cushier burbs, leaving the local congregation high and dry—but as for me and my household…” “You always do what is best for you family,” he interrupted.
One place he appears in the book unnamed, as “the retired circuit overseer,” is when we had him over for lunch after the public talk, along with some twenty-somethings. Iron sharpens iron, and so forth—that’s why we did it.
Presently, young Justin approached the fellow:
“So, how long were you in the circuit work?” he asked.
“Thirty years!” came the reply.
“Wow! You must really miss it.”
“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.
“Well . . . um . . . I mean . . . that is,” (this was not the answer he’d expected) “it must have been a big adjustment.”
“I adjusted that afternoon!”
“Look, I don’t want to sound unappreciative,” he told a friend later. “It’s just that a lot of the job is not my first choice. You know me, I’m an outdoors guy. (in his younger days, he’d worked on the railroad) And so what am I doing all day? I’m sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has found a use for me, so I stay the course.”
It’s called counting the costs. It’s a good thing to do. Aren’t mid-life crises launched when people don’t count the costs, then are floored when the bill unexpectedly arrives? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life: people go haywire for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go, acknowledge this part is good, that part not so much, and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications . . . well, I’ll trust those folks much more quickly than those who have never made introspection.
And Jehovah did have a use for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to him.
He also appears in the chapter ‘The Regional Convention’ in which I speak of how before there were videos, I was assigned a talk and had to choose two pillars of the faith (I chose Howie and Jake) to interview.
We worked several weeks and ran our interview past the circuit overseer in rehearsal. He was ecstatic: “Oh, my! What a wonderful job! How hard you brothers have worked! This is exactly what the organization is looking for. The hours and hours you must have spent! How wonderful that . . . ” he gushed on and on.
“Only,” I looked up from my humble head nod, “a tiny bit on this point here . . . I wonder if that could be tweaked just a little, not much. Just a little, to make it line up even more with what the slave is conveying.”
“Sure,” I replied uneasily, “we could adjust that.”
“Yes, I think that will go a little smoother. Everything else you brothers have worked on (you’ve worked so hard!) is fine. Just fine . . . except . . . this small bit here . . . I’m just thinking . . . we have to consider everyone in the audience . . . And actually . . . I wonder if anyone could possibly miss the point of this line. Hmm. Maybe you could . . . ”
By the time he was done, there was nothing left! In a situation like this, there is only one thing a brother can say, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother Hartman, for your counsel.” Jake interjected: “What do you mean, ‘thank you?’ He messed it all up!” But we worked the part over, and when it was presented at the convention, it fit better. It was more integrated into the overall theme.
Sometime after I wrote the book, I sent him that chapter. Never one to be anything but frank, he replied that it “didn’t make much sense to him,” a comment especially worrisome to me since he “still thought he had all his marbles,” an he went on to ask about my family. So I said I could take his name out of the ebook for a substitute. But he said he really didn’t care at this point, so I left it as is. I probably should have foreseen it. These are men very much in the tradition of anonymity, bringing attention to God, not the person serving him, same as everything printed by the earthly organization is written anonymously.
Or maybe he thought the book stunk. If so he didn’t say so. It is better for the self-esteem to stick with the first possibility.
****** The bookstore