The God Squad: All the good things he did will never be known
My remembrances of my best friend, Father Tom Hartman, have lingered past the actual fifth anniversary of his death on Feb. 16, 2016. I think of him every day and what I am thinking about now is the very best thing I think one can say about a loved one who has died, and that is this, “All the good things he did will never be known.”
The day early in our friendship when I was still learning about Tommy's goodness. We were driving over the Triborough Bridge in New York on our way home from something we had just done in the city. It was a bitter day with a driving cold rain pelting the car. Suddenly, Tommy said, “Stop the car!” We were in the middle of the bridge and stopping there was a ridiculously reckless idea, but as with so many of his reckless suggestions, I trusted him and stopped the car on the bridge in the freezing rain. Tommy jumped out and ran into the other lane and picked up a large piece of shredded metal that was sitting in the middle of the road. He pulled the metal to the side of the road and jumped back in the car soaking wet and smiling. He said, “That piece of metal might have given somebody a flat tire.” I looked at him and said these words, “If you do that again, I am going to call the police.”
And I remember…
Tommy would call me every morning at 6:30 a.m. and say, “Is this the great and wise Rabbi Marc Gellman?” I normally rise at noon and I would always grouch at him, “If you do this again, I am going to call the police.” One morning Tommy did not call. I was worried so I called him. He was groggy and apologized for not calling me. He told me that he had just returned from driving to Albany and back to speak to a guy who was considering committing suicide. I said, “That poor man was lucky to have you as such a dear friend.” He said, “I did not know him at all until he called.”
I am the only one who knows these stories and that is why I say that all the good things Tom Hartman did will never be known.
I thought of these stories because of an email that just came to me from P in North Bellmore, Long Island.
Dear Rabbi Gellman,
Here’s another sign for you from your best friend, Tommy. Years ago, I worked in a corporate gift shop. Monsignor Tom was friends with the owner, and I got to know him. I even met you once, since I was working the event for my boss at the Uniondale Marriott where you and Father Tom signed your first book together. I still have that book.
After three miscarriages, my third child was born at Mercy Hospital very late in the evening of Nov. 11, 1992. He was born in respiratory distress and the nurses told me he might not survive the night. I had seen him, held him, and could not lose him. The nurses told me that God would carry him, whatever his path would be. In tears, I called my boss and told her. Then I walked alone to the Neonatal ICU where my baby was on a ventilator. And in the wee hours of the night, in the empty hallway, there stood Father Tom standing outside the NICU praying over my struggling baby boy. My boss had called him and without hesitation, there he was in the middle of a November night.
My son got stronger each day and on Sunday, February 14, 1993, Father Tom baptized him at Sacred Heart Church in North Merrick. It was a beautiful and faithful Christening as Monsignor Hartman involved the whole family in blessing my son.
This Valentine’s Day, I woke up remembering his Christening Day and I smiled. Later in the day, I read your column about looking for signs from Tommy. Your column was published exactly 28 years to the day of my son’s Christening — on Valentine’s Day... and I smiled again. So, there’s your sign. A memory, a column, a connection to the same man ...all on Valentine’s Day. It confirms to me that love and faith are strong and that our angels are always around us.
P.S. My son is now 28 years old and has strong faith and love. He met his bride-to-be in church at St. John’s University. Love and faith are strong ... and Monsignor Tom was the first to bless him. What a beautiful sign from a wonderful man who touched so many lives.
Rest in peace, my friend.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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