Eric Freeman was a part of downtown Union Springs. Whether walking or resting, Eric was in town every day, rain or shine, heat wave or cold snap, for years. Eric had many people who talked to him and many people who didn’t. He had many people who were intimidated by him and many who knew and cared for him. He had many people who had given up on him and many people who stuck with him. Eric passed away this weekend. His absence from Union Springs will certainly be felt.
Eric was my friend for the better part of ten years, and I will miss him. But it wasn’t always so. I am ashamed to say I mostly ignored Eric for the better part of five years before something inside me thought to get to know this person I walked past daily. The choices he made on a daily basis were his, and my choice of indifference toward another human being for five years was mine. I am glad I eventually made a different choice, and I am glad he forgave me for not treating him humanely.
Like every single one of us, Eric was a complicated person who lived a life of good decisions and bad ones, of good times and hard times, and who was as human as anyone I’ve known. He had the capacity to be both short-tempered and abidingly patient, impulsive and deeply thoughtful, grumpy and incredibly funny. Given the way he was often treated, his capacity for kindness and his belief in the goodness of people astounded me. He had a warm smile and an appreciative way about him.
In the days since his passing, I have talked with several people who counted him as a friend. I have heard from churches he would frequent and people who still saw him as the childhood friend they knew him to be many years ago. My heart has been warmed knowing that there is a community within this community that knew and appreciated him, even though he spent his days downtown by himself.
Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle says, “You’re not going out to the margins to reach people; you’re going out to the margins to be reached.” Eric lived much of his life on the margins. I count myself fortunate that I found my way to the margins to make a friend and be reached. I got much more than I ever gave in my friendship with Eric, and I thank him here for that.
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.