Proverbs 28 verse 1
‘The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion’
My Uncle Tommy
I used to live in New York City. My folks didn’t have much money – life was tough. My dad worked at the docks. My mom was a cleaner. She used to clean offices in skyscrapers. You know those tall buildings that just go up and up? I know plenty of countries don’t have those – and just as well. Terrible buildings they are, if you have to work in them, or worse if you have to live in them. We lived in a block of flats which might as well have been as skyscraper, but it wasn’t. You get the feeling of being penned in, like a caged animal. All you want to do is get the heck out of there and feel the grass under your feet, or go climb a tree, but you can‘t. You just have to put up with being indoors most of the time.
When I was a young kid I didn’t do much, just watched the TV and played imaginary games with my toy soldiers. Sometimes they became cowboys and Indians and sometimes they were the North against the South in the American Civil war. There was always a lot of killing and dying involved. There was so much of it on TV. I guess I thought that is what life is about – living and dying, the hunter and the hunted.
One day an uncle came to stay. My mom and dad told me not to speak about my uncle to anyone. I was used to doing what my parents told me so I said nothing to anybody. My kid brothers and I all had to share a room when this uncle turned up. We all had to play quietly when we were at home at the weekends because he would be fast asleep. He slept during the days and went out at nights.
“Uncle Tommy – does he work nights?” I asked my mother.
“He don’t work at all, junior, just sleeps and creeps.”
Ma wasn’t fond of Uncle Tom. He expected her to feed him and wash his clothes, and he was very fussy about his clothes. They had to be just right. Where he was goin’ he had to look the part, not that many people ever saw him, my ma said.
“Why doesn’t he go out in the day time?” I asked.
“Too many people know him, he thinks. They might bother him, he says.”
“Why, Ma? Has he done somethin’ wrong?”
“Well, son, he did something wrong years ago and he paid for it. He went to prison and stayed for ten years. Now he’s out and he’s with us ‘cos he’s got nowhere else to go.’
“But why doesn’t he get a job and get his own place, Ma?”
“He’s afraid now son. He’s afraid someone is lookin’ for him. He done bad all them years ago, and now he thinks someone will find him and punish him all over again.”
“Is he a bad man, Ma? Will he be bad to us?”
“No, son, he won’t be bad to us, we are all he has got.”
“Will he always be with us, Ma?” I asked, wondering when we would be able to get the bedroom back, and be able to play our rowdy games, like we used to.
“I reckon he’ll team up with some of them no-goods he goes to see by night. He’ll probably move in with them. I hope he don’t for his sake. He’ll be back in prison for certain sure if he does.”
“I don’t want him to go to prison,” I said, thinking about him never being able to get outside and walk on grass and climb on rocks and maybe even trees. “He can have my room.”
“You are a good kid,” said Ma, “But I know Tom. I know how he thinks. He’s got a guilty conscience and thinks people are out to get him, even when they are not. He doesn’t understand going straight. His world is crooked and so is he. He thinks he’ll get protection from his gang, but all they really want is to use him. He’ll be back in choky before long, you mark my words.”
Sure enough the police came looking for Uncle Tommy a few weeks later, but he had already disappeared. He and three other members of his gang were found guilty of car theft and he was soon back behind bars. He swore he had nothing to do with it, but as my Ma said, “If you lie with dogs, you get fleas.”
I learnt a lot from having Uncle Tom to stay. I learnt how important it is to be honest and straight, to keep out of trouble, and to be strong and fierce if folks tried to get me to do otherwise. I didn’t want to have a guilty conscience and go creeping around, afraid of my own shadow. I wanted to go where I wanted to go any time, day or night. And I did, and I still do.
What do you think the word righteous means in the Proverb:
The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
- Why do you think that being ‘righteous’ can make people feel as bold as a lion?
- Uncle Tom was a criminal who had paid the price for his crime by going to prison. Why do you think he felt people were still out to get him?
- What do you think it feels like when you know you have done something wrong and you are waiting for someone to find you out?
- Have you ever done something which made you feel guilty? Did you know that it would before you did it? Would you do the same thing again if you had the choice?
- What does the boy’s mother mean when she says: “If you lie with dogs you get fleas.”
- What ending would you like to have on the story? Could it have a happy ending for Uncle Tom?