The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all. ~Frederick Buechner

In the Red Room

Tony and Eileen moved into Jesus People when they were well along in their years. Tony had been in the Navy and used to sport a fisherman’s cap. When he passed away, Eileen gave my husband Tony’s hat.

Eileen’s room was painted a deep red, the color of rubies. She had led a number of former lives. Before the penitentiary, she’d run a house of ill-repute. Then even after getting saved and going straight, she still ran afoul of the law when she became involved in a Ponzi scheme. After her last stint in jail, she and Tony came to live with us.

Eileen had experienced first-hand Christ’s everlasting mercy and was, in turn, generous and forgiving of others. She loved to order take-out late at night and would invite my husband and I in for a feast of hot and sour soup and crab rangoon. She was queen of the understatement. One time a Roman Polanski film came on TV and she casually let it slip that she had met the infamous director back in Los Angeles—when she was “working.” I was used to these asides. In Dallas, she’d known Jack Ruby, but made it clear she’d never worked for him. They’d merely shared a drink once or twice in his club. Nevertheless, she is mentioned in the Warren Report.

Eileen’s been gone for at least a decade. It took the couple who later moved into Eileen’s old room five coats of primer to finally erase the red walls. Yet, she is not forgotten. A few years ago my daughter and I were reminiscing about Eileen and my daughter, now a college graduate, confessed that as a kid she used to wander down to Eileen’s room after we thought she was asleep in bed. Together they’d eat ice cream and watch Touched by an Angel.

We have such complicated histories, further complicated by the interweaving of our lives. The end of one story is the beginning of another. This is the beautiful journey of community.


Jane Hertenstein
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