I’m stepping out of my normal format this week. I’m not writing about a hospice patient. I’m writing about one of those short-lived personal encounters that make a lasting impression upon you; about Charlie.
My wife and I bought our first house back in the ’70s. It was a fixer upper, but unfortunately I wasn’t. I tore out the fireplace and gutted the kitchen and bathrooms at the same time. (Big mistake!) So we had to shower at my in-laws and we “didn’t have a pot to …” Needless to say, things were getting pretty stressful on the home front.
I’d just started working at the hospital as a social worker. Our office was in the basement adjacent to the Home Care Department and Jean, a Home Care nurse, overheard me moaning to my coworker about my remodeling woes. Jean graciously and sympathetically suggested, “You should call my husband, Charlie, he’d be glad to help you out.” Jean not only volunteered Charlie, she dispatched him.
In my eyes, Charlie was a relatively old fellow back then, in his late 40s. He was a carpenter at the local steel mill and had been a civil engineer with the railroad. He surveyed the chaos and then asked, “What do you want to accomplish here?”
He directed, “I’ll get you started and when you get one thing done I’ll come back and help you get the next thing lined out.”
We started with preparing the kitchen walls for new cabinets. Next he lined me out on rewiring; then plumbing, then paneling, then the ceiling, and finally installing the cabinets. I’m so thankful Charlie didn’t do the work for me; instead he taught me how to do it myself.
I felt so indebted to Charlie that I insisted on paying him. Instead he asked me to promise him one thing in return, “Just be willing to do the same thing for someone else.”
I recently watched a movie that reminded me of Charlie, titled, “Pay It Forward.” A 7th grade social studies teacher gave his class an assignment, “Think of an idea to change the world and put it into action.” The next day the students were called on to share their ideas. A student named Trevor shared his plan; that if he did something for three people and those three people did something for three more people, then that would make nine, and so on.
Trevor added, “But you can’t pay the good deeds back; you have to pay them forward.” He added, “It has to be really big, something that they can’t do for themselves…You can’t plan it. You have to watch people more. You have to keep your eye on them, to protect them; because they can’t always see what they need…It’s like your big chance to fix something that’s not like your bike. You can fix a person.”
Charlie lined me out on more than home remodeling that year. He lined me out on an inescapable, wonderful, life-giving spiritual principle. Can you imagine what our world would be like, what we would be like, if we made it our mission to “Pay it forward?”
Sister Severin, my administrative supervisor at Mercy Hospital back in 1990, gave me a gift when I earned my master’s degree in Social Work. It’s a small framed picture of St. Francis with a hand written note and a poem on the back. She wrote, “May we, like Francis , be instruments of peace.” Sister Severin passed St. Francis’ prayer on to me, so I’m paying it forward to you.
Prayer of St. Frances:
“Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred…let me sow love,
Where there is injury…pardon.
Where there is discord…unity.
Where there is doubt…faith.
Where there is error…truth.
Where there is despair…hope,
Where there is sadness…joy.
Where there is darkness…light.
O Divine Master, grant that I may no so much seek to be consoled…as to console.
To be understood…as to understand.
To be loved…as to love.
For it is in giving…that we receive.
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned.
It is in dying…that we are born to eternal life.”