The first time I met Percy King, I was volunteering at an event in a neighboring community. I’d taken my children to his booth to see his exotic animals when Percy walked up behind me and laid a ten foot, albino python on my shoulders. I almost wet my pants. I tried explaining to him that I was a “fluffy” animal person, but he didn’t accept that. Observing his overall “stage presence”, love for what he was doing, and natural ability to put one at ease, I immediately invited him to be a presenter at the summer camp I directed for children through the Brookhaven Animal Rescue League. He happily agreed.
Fast forward a few months. Percy arrived at camp a few minutes early. Our camp chaplain was still delivering his daily devotion. As I approached Percy to greet and welcome him, I noticed tears freely flowing down his face. He was so moved by the devotion itself and the fact that the rescue league was honoring God that it took him a minute to regain his composure. Because of our mutual love for God, animals, and children, we quickly bonded and identified as “kindred spirits”.
Of course, the camp kids loved Percy and all of his amazing animals, and from that year on, I always invited him back – as much for myself as the children. He loved on the kids so well. He was never in a hurry and made sure every child was given the opportunity to interact with each of his many critters. He would draw their attention and laughter with pranks at my expense: one time he laid a scorpion on my neck and told the kids if they clapped it would sting me, another time he placed a parrot on my head and told the kids it would poop on me if they clapped. Percy found amusement when I was peed on by his alligator and pricked by the hedgehog. Over the years, I even grew comfortable handling his snakes. If Percy trusted them, so did I.
Along with the rest of Mississippi, my heart was broken when news of his murder broke. Percy was such a kind, gentle, and tender-hearted person. When he wasn’t showing his animals at birthday parties, schools, nursing homes, and other community events, he volunteered at the homeless shelter and his church. He mentored countless numbers of young men over the years. Percy was the kind of person that would have given you the shirt off of his back. He was selfless, considerate, and compassionate.
The question of “why” begs to be answered, but greater than that, for me right now, is “what” and “how”. What can I do to make a difference in the world the way Percy so effortlessly did? How can I make a lasting impact on those around me? To honor his life is to better mine.
Lord, help me live and love like Percy – faithfully and purposefully.