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A Very Linux Christmas

Since 2005, with the exception of last year, I have “worked” every Christmas day. I accentuate “worked” because I am lucky enough to have a job that feels more like a hobby than it does labor. I give computers to kids who cannot afford them. What’s not to like? I plan to work some of Christmas morning this year too.

This year is a special though.

Why?

Because I wasn’t supposed to be here. In fact, I wasn’t to be anywhere. Not in one piece anyway.

I was supposed to be dead.

Reglue doorMany of my friends are atheists and agnostics. Don’t run off at the first mention of the “G” word…that’s not the focus.

Like many dying people, I tried to bargain with God. Whether you think God is The Universe, the dew drop on a spring rose petal, the chair in the corner or in a more biblical sense….I’m not here to start a theological argument with you.

I asked God for one thing.

Five years.

I told him I needed five years to finish my work, and if he thought my work merited his attention, I would appreciate that time. Five years would give me time to get Reglue set-up so anyone could run it.

What an arrogant little ant I was…thinking that the little thing I do would be noticed by God.

But so far, I think (S)he’s listened. My prognosis changed radically from terminal to Stage 3 in a period of a month. A miracle? Who knows? A team of good doctors and an even bigger team of friends from around the globe probably had as much to do with my initial recovery as anything. A crappy initial diagnosis by an inept doctor could have played into it too. But miracle…or not. I’ll keep that between me and my God.

This past Tuesday I was sitting at my desk doing parts inventory and creating a database when something out of the corner of my eye got my attention. A slight movement by our front door had me standing up, looking more closely at what was right outside. I only have a sliver of viewing area to the outside from my desk.

Standing under the porch awning was a large black man. I could only see his back but from what I could see, he was at least 6’3″ and a good 240 pounds. As I stood to go to the door, he turned toward the door and started beating on it with his fist. It wasn’t locked.

I could see his face now. He was frightened out of his mind.

I ran to the door, expecting him to have been hurt or threatened. When I pushed the door open, he rushed in and positioned himself so I was between him and the door. I looked outside to see what he might be so frightened of. He answered me, without me having to ask.

“Mister, there’s a big dog out there and I am really afraid of big dogs.”

Sure enough, across the street, in the front yard of our neighbor, stood a big yellow Lab. She’d probably lick you to death but that’s about as violent as she’d ever get.

But you can’t soothe irrational fear. You have to take the perceived threat away first.

I invited the young man into the shop and he sat down in a chair in the classroom as I got him some water from the shop refrigerator.

Taylor, TexusHe was a young man, sixteen years old with a linebacker’s build and the disposition of a child. His name is Eddie Baker and he lives with his mom and three brothers in a housing project on the south side of Taylor. Here in small town Texas, there are hundreds of small towns that have a “right” and a “wrong” side of the tracks.

Most folks here would say Eddie and his family lived on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

As he calmed down, he started telling me about how he was going to work after school to help his family out. He starts at Whataburger in the first week of January and he hoped to be able to buy himself a computer.

Really, I thought to myself…this isn’t happening like this is it?

He knew nothing about what we do or how we do it. He was just a young man, terribly afraid of dogs, seeking shelter against that fear.

So I went outside to make sure the dog was not there, went back in and gathered all six plus feet of this manchild and put him in my car. In ten minutes I had him safe and sound at home.

Between Eddie’s mom and me, we’ve arranged for me to come over Christmas morning and set-up Eddie’s computer. He has no idea it’s coming.

It’s going to be a good Christmas Day for me.

3 years and 4 months and counting…

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project that refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area.

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10 comments to A Very Linux Christmas

  • Chris Guiver

    Thank you Ken for story.

    I’d love to offer to help, alas i’m not local.

    Chris g.

  • ken

    Seasons Greetings and may next year be a good one for you and Eddie

  • Bob Robertson

    Wonderful, Ken. I want Eddie to know the friend he’s found, by now I’m certain his mom does. :)

  • Ralph Little

    Can’t think of a better Christmas story.
    I’m one of the said atheists but I still celebrate Christmas and for me it is more about celebrating people and stories like this.

    I hope you have a great Christmas doing what you love, and many more years of that I wish for you yet! :D

  • cam

    Thank you for the amazing work you do and for sharing this story! Merry Christmas to you and yours, and to all of those you’ve helped and inspired along the way.

  • Kurt

    I’m not sure I would have been so friendly. My first thought of a large man beating on my door would be “intruder”.

    I think it’s great what you do. I would love to see Eddie’s face tomorrow.

  • You do great work. I’m not a believer, but I sort of believe in Karma as an impartial, impersonal force, sort of akin to gravity but powered by the good and evil that humans do to each other. You have good karma, and it’s cultivated in all the good you do. I suspect you will be around for a while.

  • Brian Kitchens

    Amazing! I’d love to know how the xmas dropoff/setup went. :)

    I had the idea of setting up a shop like that long ago when I was a young bench tech that had access to heaps of spare computer parts. What I have done is refurbish/rebuild many systems and then give them to someone that needed a computer.

    Here’s one notable instance. My wife and I used to watch Monkey Time on public access every week.
    http://www.monkeytime.org/
    That’s Todd Mormon’s website that hasn’t been updated in…forever! But the show is still going. Anyways, one week he announced that his computer had died. I had called into the show before and had met him a couple times at his job at a local bookstore, so I felt comfortable contacting him. I emailed Todd and said I had a computer in my closet ready to go that was collecting dust. He said he wanted it and we arranged for me to drop it off at his house.
    I threw in whatever extras I could gather like an old Zip drive and a few other accessories. I show up at his house and he had baked me a mulberry pie!! I’m a former baker and a huge pie freak. I’d never tried mulberry before. It was very unusual, but still made a great pie. He’d picked the berries himself in his back yard. What a great guy.
    I was dropping off the computer on my way to a martial arts event that was taking place over a weekend. I shared the pie with a few others and the reactions were mixed, but one guy in particular loved it.
    Giving is its own reward.

  • Ian Forsyth

    Oh man, that was just about the best thing I could have read first thing in the morning. In 1998 I very nearly bit the dust from an electrolyte-imbalance cardiac arrest. I’m still doing well, still wishing I could do better since it’s borrowed time, and still an avid Linux enthusiast. Bless you Ken, many happy returns, and _please_ tell me Eddie didn’t want a Windows box lol.