A Single Moment Can Last a Lifetime — Jimmy Crittenden

In a little town in southern Wisconsin called Janesville lives a man named James Crittenden. He goes by Jimmy, and he does an assortment of part time jobs to make ends meet, but his passion project at the moment is the reconstruction of the Oakhill Chapel, a small little church near a cemetery. It’s been around for more than a hundred years and it’s more than feeling its age. With Jimmy’s help, one day at a time, it’s getting fixed up.

One day at a time, single moments that can last a lifetime, are the kinds of things that have made Jimmy the man he is. He spent a good portion of his young life in the city he now lives, raised by his parents Marie and James Crittenden Sr., whom he still thinks of as his greatest inspirations.

“Looking back,” Jimmy said, “I’m grateful almost every day to be raised right. I feel that they instilled with me the concept of freedom and liberty. And they nourished it by helping me be free of bitterness and being a hater and a predator and those kinds of things.”

It was the little, singular moments in his family, with four brothers and sisters, that gave him a thirst for helping people at every turn. Sweet moments of gentleness and kindness, of respect. Things like hunting for Easter eggs and hiding them again, or opening presents on Christmas morning.

This simplicity and charm is what drove out west. He settled in Kayenta, Arizona, as a middle school teacher on a Navajo reservation. He immersed himself in the culture and fell in love with the people. Still, for a while after arriving he felt the outsider. He was a non-native in a very tight-knit culture. He was given a sense of ease, however, by another single, chance encounter.

“The custodian at our school was this guy past the retirement age, I’m pretty sure,” Jimmy said. “He taught me with great kindness that respect is a human right. It’s not something you earn or have to prove or be worthy of. Just the act that you’re a person makes you worthy of respect.”

That idea, small and simple as it was, stuck with Jimmy. It may have been because of the source. The custodian was in his seventies, thirty years older than Jimmy, but still referred to the teacher as “grandpa” a sign of respect. Or maybe it was just because the idea resounded so well with him in its simplicity.

That wasn’t the last moment that would matter in his life. Jimmy has said his proudest accomplishments were that twice during his life, despite all his self-described flaws and foolishness, he was actually in the right place at the right time. The first was during roof work. Another worker was on the roof with him, and lost his balance at the edge of a second story drop. Jimmy grabbed him, pulling him back on and saving the man’s life. Some years later, when a young girl on a bicycle was about to ride in front of a bus, Jimmy grabbed her and pulled her to safety.

Two small moments, over in the blink of an eye but powerful to resound throughout a lifetime. Powerful enough to create a lifetime.

“It makes you feel like it was your whole purpose for life,” Jimmy said. “I was around for, whatever, thirty-five years. But today was the day. It makes me wonder how many other times I was supposed to be somewhere and I wasn’t.”

Modesty at its finest, and a sign of a man who will likely never be satisfied with what he has taken from life. If something intrigues him or seems worth doing, he does it. His grandfather once told him, there’s no substitute for experience, and Jimmy has taken the advice to heart.

Now he has taken that advice to the Oakhill Chapel. More than a hundred years old, the structure was built to last a long time. After standing through two world wars and a great depression, many years of sorrow when it needed the most attention, the large stone structure had fallen deeply into disrepair.

Jimmy and several others talked the city out of tearing it down. They’ve worked for months to raise the money to repair the structure, and several months fixing it up. It hasn’t simply been a management job, either. Jimmy has personally spent hours and sweat working to repair the Chapel. Every time he goes in to do a simple job, a repair that will last far longer than the time it took to complete it.

Because that’s what Jimmy Crittenden’s life has been: a series of singular moments that have caused ripples across the world around him. Quick, brief acts, often in a moment of pain, that create something good.

“There’s a saying,” said Jimmy. “The stone the builder’s rejected will become the chief cornerstone. This chapel is an example of that. I hope it amounts to something over time. Long after I’m gone.”

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