There is more to a town than tourists, than new parking meters, and even more than locals. Sometimes when all of my social media involves stories about politics, bigotry, and lost dogs, it makes me want to remember what’s good again.
No matter how angry at each other people can be, I want that feeling of hope, of story, of connection that you can find when you focus in on just one member of your community, one interaction, one person.
There is something special about certain people.
Tom Richendollar is one of those certain special people. He’s one of the mail carriers in our little tourist town of Bar Harbor, Maine, which is an important job, but it’s not the job that makes Tom special, it’s who he is as a human that does that.
One day after I came back from speaking at a Rotary district conference Tom paused on the sidewalk and said completely deadpan, “I heard you met my mother.”
“She adores you,” I said as he twisted his face into an expression of mock horror.
He laughed. “She adores you, too!”
“I told her how great you are.”
“Did she believe you?” Tom retorted with a smile, moving on, connecting but also working.
Tom can remember everything and everyone, maiden names, married names, pen names, kids’ names.
But it’s more than that. Tom sees people as more than names, more than stops on his route. He sees us as what we are – people, people with stories and joys and pains and needs. And sometimes in a world that can feel too full of screens and screams, anger and loneliness, being seen? That’s one of the best gifts of all.
This was Tom’s last week in Bar Harbor after commuting here for years. He has a new position with the postal service, a position that’s closer to home, and everyone is happy for him.
But we’re going to miss the man who holds so many pieces of our stories.
Tom’s a bit of a daredevil, but a lot of folks in Bar Harbor don’t realize that. He used to don a leather suit and street luge, flying down Day Hill on Route 9 reclined on a wheel-mounted luge, starting near a derelict fire tower, zooming past blueberry fields. He did it with his friends. It’s still a little wild, but it’s Tom. There’s a zest there, a quest for life, connection, for story, to spend every moment of your life truly experience it.
The picture for this post is of him. I stole it off his Facebook. Hopefully, he won’t mind.
Tom has been driving to Bar Harbor through tourist traffic in the summer and storms in the winter. He’s kept an eye on a local realtor’s sign on a property that was on his commute. He’s kept an eye on neighbors, elderly, young, able-bodied, injured. He’s kept an eye on all of us in Bar Harbor, but he’s done it with such a grace and a smile that speaks to his supreme kindness.
As Marie Yarborough posted on Facebook, “If you know Tom, you know that he has a mind of steel. He knows every house, every family member, your maiden name, and the last four to five places you have lived in this town. Do you know how I know this? Because I have received mail with my maiden name on it from three addresses ago!”
It’s more than that steel-trap of a brain.
It’s also as Marie writes, “Tom is the kind of carrier that knows when you are gone and cares, checks in with you about your delivery, keeps an eye out, knows your kids, asks about them, always a smile, always moving, always meticulous.”
Tom is the sort of person who is a gift to a community, which feels especially important when so many people and communities that are feeling hungrier, more worried about self-preservation than innovation and empathy, befooled by ‘experts,’ divided by ideologies, often hopeless and feeling less educated.
For years, Tom has delivered our bills and notices, contracts and birthday cards, walked past children shrieking in water sprinklers, parents befuddled by strollers, veterans viewing a world they once helped save from a rickety seat on a porch. He has given tourists in cars directions to the National Park. Tom has seen it all. All of us. All of our community. He has smelled pies and dinner baking, laughed at dogs that bark hello. He knows our fangs and our lullabies, our flaws and our excellence.
And what does he do?
He delivers our mail and sometimes is the one person we talk to in real life on a particular day.
He gave us the gift of himself over and over again.
Tom deserves a shorter commute, to be closer to his kids and family. Tom deserves so much. But wow, we will miss him. So much. So damn much.