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As it so happened, I sat down this week to write about my journey into Lexington, and I got a call from Paula Jefferson that her husband, Thomas “Jeff” Jefferson II had passed away. It was fate to get a call from Paula just as the blog I was writing was going to cover the time we had spent together. I had strong reminiscence of our walk through that area of West Tennessee, which was embedded with my memory of spending time with our hosts Paula and Jeff who had hosted Laura, me and my dog Bodhi.

We left the Scott’s home in Jackson, Tennessee on October 4th early in the morning and left Walk for Our Lives stickers for them, which paled in comparison to how much gratitude we would have liked to have expressed. 

We made our way to Lexington where we were meeting Thomas Jefferson. We had never met Thomas before, but he was going to let us park and camp in his side yard. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s wild to think how much trust we had in complete strangers, depending on critical bits of information we would get by text in the wee hours of the morning from someone we didn’t know. This walk was an exercise in trust with unknown Tennesseeans on whom we had complete reliance. In my mind, because we were walking in such a remote area, I was thinking we would find ourselves in the woods somewhere, but his house was on the main street in Lexington. 

We drove to Thomas’ house around 7:30 in the morning. We were dropping off the camper van and then he would backtrack and drive us to our starting point for the day. We must’ve made a good impression because while we were on the road he texted and said that he and Paula would invite us to stay inside their home. They either felt sorry for us, or realized that we would be too exhausted to be serial killers.

It’s one thing to stay in homes by hosts that were expecting us. However, in Lexington, we all expected that we would have slept in the campervan. Bodhi and I would stay warm together in the top bunk, while Laura would sleep below us. Their generous offering was a spur-of-the-moment decision with no preparations for hosting guests. I could feel the mutual vulnerability to be in a space that was simply open, warm, and welcoming. We would stay inside his quintessential man cave, with a prominent TV football watching and nary a feminine touch. Paula humorously threatened to make it into a wo-man cave. I slept on the couch with Bodhi and Laura slept on the floor using the mattress from the van.

Paula was willing to hang out with Bodhi while Laura and I enjoyed a sunny walk the next day. It was nice to get back to their house at the end of the day to take a shower. We went to a small unincorporated town outside of Lexington, ate Mexican food, and got to know Thomas and his wife more. They had just gotten married this past January. He was a University of Tennessee Knoxville football player back in the day. They both came from small towns. They had known each other when Paula was only 11 years old and had kept in contact over the last several decades until they were both finally able to marry. They call each other their soulmates and I’m so glad they found each other.

I can see that it is exciting for Thomas to have Paula add some feminine energy to his household. He had been a business person and traveled all over the world. He had held local office once before and was running for State Representative, House District 79. We would see them again later in the week because Thomas was organizing a rally for Dr. Jason Martin, the gubernatorial candidate. I was thankful that he also gave me an opportunity to speak.

The next day we walked 13 miles to Parsons, TN and camped at the Perryville Marina campsite. We would stay there several days just on the west side of the Tennessee River. 

I am so honored to have met Thomas, witnessed his love for his wife, and his passion for community service. Little did I know at the time that cancer was ravaging his health. This relationship, however brief, is a gift of love and generosity that we carried throughout our walk, and it will continue long past his passing. May Thomas rest in power. May Paula and his family be at peace, be filled with ease and loving kindness.