Life’s Banana Bread

by on May 11th, 2015
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It is kind of a takeoff on the cliché “when life gives you lemons…”, well use the same scenario but with bananas and rotten bananas equals banana bread – and a fair share of fruit flies.

Tom Hartman is a friend of mine that was truly given some rotten bananas. I met Tom not too long ago – maybe four months, yet I feel like I’ve known him forever. Tom is quadriplegic due to the progression of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease I was also diagnosed with about four years ago.

Because I have been “fortunate” thus far in that the effects the disease has had on me have been relatively mild, I thought I would volunteer to help someone like Tom who could use some company, you know – some cheering up. Really what I thought I could do was maybe swat some of his fruit flies away for a while.

I learned that Tom had been diagnosed with the disease at about the same age I was diagnosed-hmm. His name was Tom (wow that needed to be pointed out)- again, hmm. He enjoyed art and painting, which I had just started messing around with-hmm hmm hmm. Well, all of these hmm’s and I was starting to get a little nervous (and needless to say the fact that I kept making that “hmm” sound over and over in front of him was also getting a little awkward). I mean, could I be looking in the mirror at what my life would be like 20 years from now?

Tom told me that he had been confined to his bed, and occasionally his electric wheelchair, for 14 years (and I may get these numbers slightly wrong but you get the idea). For the first twelve years he just laid there thinking, about what I am not sure, and talking to his wife Lois. He said that “got a little old” after a while. A little old? Confined to a bed for a week would get old, 12 years would simply be intolerable.

Ok, so now my hands were sweating a bit and I was doing that weird thing when you can’t really swallow but you keep trying but your mouth is so dry that there is nothing going down-but you keep swallowing just hoping something trickles down, even a tooth would be welcomed at that point. I digress, but I couldn’t do this, what if this is me? I can’t imagine I could make it three days, let alone 14 years in the same place. What was I going to do? How could this be? What was going to be on TV that would interest me for 14 years- I mean “Mash” only ran for 11 years. And then I thought-How in the hell am I helping this guy? I’m a wreck. Inside I was saying “hold it together man” while outside I was saying smart things like “Where did you work, you know.. ah… when you…ah.. used to.. you know, work?”

That is when Tom, maybe unknowingly, let me off the hook-he changed the subject and redirected this bumbling idiot standing in front of him, like a pre-school teacher does with a 4 year old.

“You know, I have been working on some new artwork.”

I nodded politely, not really hearing what he said. Then he turned his head back toward his computer screen and began to paint. Tom had received two years ago a new technology which allowed him to re-embrace an old love (you’re still #1 though Lois). This technology allows Tom to paint just like he did on a canvas, only now “with less clean up.” On the bridge of his glasses is a sensor which triggers another sensor on the top of the monitor to place the mouse where he wants it. He then sips (on a straw like devise) which effectively works like clicking the mouse. This allows Tom to paint incredible pictures-no seriously, they are incredible. I was glued to the monitor, watching him paint. I can only describe it as painting the Mona Lisa on an Etch-A-Sketch. He is incredible. (don’t believe me, check it out at )

With a few phone calls I was able to get Tom a website made by Karpata Group ( and helped him get his first piece sold, which now hangs in Quail Hollow Country Club. It was the least I could do for such incredible work. Tom’s artwork has since made its way into FABO, a gallery type hang out around the corner from me, and a couple of other places.

What Tom truly doesn’t know, and I guess at some point I should tell him, was that really I haven’t done anything for him compared to what he has done for me. I went over there thinking I would swat some fruit flies but instead received that best banana bread recipe that I have ever seen. He has taken the disability in stride, and while he has his bad days-god don’t we all-he has concerned himself with what he can do, not clouding his mind with what he cannot. He has proven to me that what the body may lack, the mind can make up for. He has been an incredible inspiration to me. When I have a few aches or pains, or feel a little worn down by my own bouts with the disease, I think of him, as I do whenever I need to be reminded to just keep punching and things will eventually work.

What stays with me the most though is this. I had just got Tom the website and had said I had a sale for a commissioned work, he looked at me and said “I feel like the luckiest man in the world right now”-there, from his bed, where he had laid for 14 years, he was the luckiest man in the world.

Our conversations are much less awkward now. I love to see him and Lois, though they are working most of the time getting new pieces ready for new galleries. They have met all of our kids as I want them all to know them and am hoping their positive attitude rubs off on us all.

So next time you wonder if you should volunteer or get involved, just remember that it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but the best banana bread recipe ever may be waiting there for you.

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