By Jessica de Bruin
I have been thinking a lot about Bobby. I met him in the first few weeks that I moved to Oakland to serve with a year-long inner-city mission program. It was a sunny day, and I was walking downCampbellStreetwith my roommate Heather. It was the first of many trips for us to drag our dirty clothes to the laundry mat a couple blocks from home. A tall, lean, black man in his forties wearing shabby clothes approached us. I vaguely remember being nervous as I questioned if he was good news or not.
“Excuse me, ladies. Can I carry your laundry for you?” And before we could answer, he insisted. “I don’t want any money; I just don’t like seeing ladies carry heavy things.”
So he carried our laundry for us. And I believe he carried it back for us that day, as well. From then on, Bobby was not a stranger. We learned tidbits of his life that he grew up in West Oakland, that he dated a six-foot blonde woman back in the day, that he loves God, and that he struggles with an addiction to crack. Whenever I saw him, he always had a smile to offer and would always lend a helping hand to our neighbors. From helping people carry their laundry and groceries to clearing out an elderly woman’srain gutter, Bobby had a servants heart.
Thoughts of him bring a smile to my face and a knot in my throat. Last week, I found out that Bobby died mid-January. He was found in his car, in which he lived, a few blocks from our home. His body was frozen, and there is talk that he may have died from a seizure. I don’t know if drugs caused the seizure or not, but really, that is not what matters now.
As far as I know, Bobby has been fighting his crack addiction for years. He had been to drug rehab programs numerous times and would talk about his problem openly. He came to Mt. Zion for service and prayer many times. You could feel his pain of frustration that he had this addiction. From what I knew of Bobby, I have no doubt in my mind that he loved God with his whole being.
The last time I saw him was this Christmas, when I went to visit my old roommate Heather, who still lives in the neighborhood, and some other very dear friends in Oakland. I saw him a couple of times, actually. Talking to him, I was reminded of his lonely nights in his car and how when he woke up in the middle of the night he would read his Bible and be comforted. One of his favorites was Psalm 25. He told Heather and me that he needed prayer and that he needed to get away from the neighborhood because of the temptations there.
“I don’t care if you are black, white, or purple, once you smoke that crack,” he said, shaking his head. He didn’t need to explain any further.
I left Oakland December 20th, and as I was walking out the door with Heather and my luggage, Bobby saw us and, of course, took my bag and put it in Heather’s car. He recited a poem that he wrote about drugs and hope for change. He told us that God gave him that poem so that one day it could be used as lyrics in a rap song to send a positive message to others. It was one of the most beautiful poems I have ever heard.
The pain so real, and a hope so strong. Tears stung my eyes from his words. Just as he finished, one of his friends hollered a half a block down, and Bobby nodded to him. He gave us both a hug and said, “Hey, keep praying for me. He then turned to offer his friend a big smile and handshake and they stood there and talked, while Heather and I got in the car to go to the airport. A month later, Bobby is gone from this world.
Through sobs and frustration, my question is, “Why?” and a plea, “But God, he didn’t get to reach his fullest potential.” To that, I felt a very stern question in response:
“Who are you to say he didn’t reach his fullest potential?”
Well, I am nobody to say anything about much. And then, as I think more and more about this man that I really know little of, I see a true example of a man who loved God and his neighbors well. And for as much as he struggled, he also fought. For as much as he fell, he also got back up. Perhaps, that was the fullest he was to reach in this life. After all, our fullest looks differently in each of us. But when it comes down to the bare essentials, what is our calling? I believe in God and the truth of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and I believe that Bobby followed the greatest commandments:
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
I didn’t know Bobby well, but I believe he was an example of God’s love in action, and I believe he didn’t bury the talents he was given. He is an example to me of what is really important in life. Bobby has made a difference in peoples lives, including mine. He has left imprints of his love on my heart. And I seenow howthose prints expand to a large crowd of people that attended Bobby’s funeral.
Everyone loved Bobby, and in the short time since his passing, I have heard a lot of pain from the neighbors. It just isn’t the same without him. One of our neighbors whose groceries were always carried up to her doorstepbreaks downwhen she thinks of Bobby.
The elderly woman he always helped has had more financial strain recently because the leaves in her rain gutter were too blocked up and caused water damage in her house. It goes on to similar stories of people I don’t know, but who were touched by Bobby’s life. I now see that for as much as he was physically homeless, his kingdom familywas his true home,and there is no house or block of houses on Campbell Street that could accommodate that number of people.
The pain of his passing is real, but now, I believe he is finally at peace. And I like the picture that Heather gave when she said that Bobby doesn’t have to fight anymore and that there are now angels surrounding him, singing his rap song with him.
Rest in Peace, Bobby.
Jessica de Bruin currently lives and works in Canada and is seeking admission to grad school at USF to become a guidance counselor at an urban high school in the Bay Area. She is up for almost any adventure, loves people and their stories and seeks to live a life that isn’t ordinary.