When I was a child in the 50’s and 60’s, there were two black families who attended the same church my family did. Mr. Bailey owned a grocery store. He gave several of my friends their first work experience when he hired them to work for him.
In November 2001, Jim Bailey still attended church with my folks after all those years. He came to their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. This was shortly after I returned from Ghana, Cuba, and Rhode Island with 9 distant cousins on the journey that was chronicled in the film Traces of the Trade and my first book, Inheriting the Trade.
With a room full of people surrounding us, I took the opportunity to share with Mr. Bailey how I had learned so much about slavery, racism, and the history of my country that I never learned in school.
He leaned toward me. “We always learned those things in our schools, son.”
We talked about several related subjects – deep truths – that we had never broached together before. Later, as we prepared to part, he said, “Your mother was sure disappointed when you decided not to become a minister. She looked forward to being a minister’s mother.”
“Yes,” I said, “I know she was. But I made the right choice.”
He smiled. Our eyes locked as if there were no one else around. “Now look how God works. You’re going to minister to people with this truth after all.”
We both smiled and then hugged each other close. Tears welled up in his eyes as we parted. He placed his hand on my cheek.
That was our first deep conversation as two adults. I’m blessed that we’ve had several more since.
I called my parents last night. They told me that Jim Bailey celebrated 90 years of life a few days ago. On his birthday he suffered a stroke. He’s in the hospital. I don’t know his condition. I await word from my mom on his prognosis.
Today I carry Jim’s heart in my heart. I ask my friends who have never met Mr. Bailey to whisper a prayer or a blessing to God or Allah or the Universe, or whatever ritual you use, for my friend who has touched my life.
God bless you, Jim Bailey. I wish you comfort and peace.
UPDATE (Tuesday): I just got off the phone with Jim. It was so good to hear his voice. He’s home, resting, and doing well. It turns out that what they thought was a stroke turned out – after extensive testing – to be exceedingly high blood pressure. The doctors have helped get things back under control. Jim sounds great and says he feels good. Thank you to my readers for your support, prayers, and well-wishes. This won’t be the last time you read about Mr. Jim Bailey!