Jan 212021 3 Responses

The Age He Was Then

I am now the age he was then. In part, the past 31 years have flown by, but in another way, it seems like a world ago. Times have changed. I haven’t had an in-depth conversation with him for years. A few times a year we would pass on the street and wave. Every now and then we would see one another in a restaurant and talk. I never doubted his love and I hope he never doubted mine.

While it’s been a long time, the memories are as fresh as any. I can hear his voice on the phone while he was calling for my parents; he never seemed irritated that I answered the phone. He would ask, “whattya doin?” And always seemed to genuinely want to know.

Kids look up to everyone…literally. In a kid’s world, everyone is big. You live at waist level and the only way to be seen is for someone to look down. It takes effort to look down. It’s why many kids are only seen when they cause trouble. Irritated, an adult looks down to correct a child. Yet Charlie had an amazing ability. While living in an adult world, he made you feel as though he understood what it was like to be a kid. While many seemed to push you off, he had the ability to draw you in. He would look down without ever making you feel looked down upon.

The result…I always felt a little older with Charlie. He gave me the sense that one day others would hear me the way he heard me. They would see me the way he already saw me. Without ever being inappropriate, he would say things like “you’re getting older so pretty soon those girls are going to be looking at you” or “when you start driving you’ll be really good because you pay close attention.” (See: Kids Are Supposed to Teach Us)

Charlie always had a way to make me feel bigger.

One of the things I love about the church is the variety of relationships it gives a person. For me, it gave a variety of other families which made me feel like their own. Two of those families truly became extended family. Every Sunday after church we would eat together. On many Friday nights, we would be at each other’s house. Every year on the first week of August we would be at the beach together. Being the youngest of the children, I was always around even after the other kids were old enough not to be hanging out with our parents.

Yet Charlie was always attentive. He would make sure I was included. When he sensed I was bored, he would have something to show me. When we sat at a restaurant, he wouldn’t ignore me. He would regularly send me cartoons or infographics in the mail. Mail to a kid is gold.

It was Charlie who talked me and my dad into starting to play golf–a sport which eventually would pay a small part of my college. (And my dad would emphasize the “small” part.) It was with him that I hit my first hole-in-one. He was more excited than I was.

I can still remember his hand on my shoulder the night I got baptized. And he was full of pride when I began to preach.

While Charlie wasn’t the only one, he was one of the more influential people in my childhood. He was part of the village that raised me.

It’s fascinating to look back on those days now. While at the time everything Charlie did seemed normal and noble, I look back with different insights. At 12, I thought adult men had it all together. At 43, I know better. I can now see the many faults and foibles of the adults who I thought were perfect. They weren’t. None of us are.

Yet what amazes me about Charlie is not the struggles I grew to see, but the good he was able to do. Being the age now that he was then, I have a deep affection for the impact he made on my life. How easily could he have seen himself as already doing enough or being too busy to need to care about another person? Work, marriage, parenting, and life are stressful enough. It’s easy to assume we need some “me” time.

Instead, Charlie found time to send me some mail, take me to play golf, or make sure I felt included. He was always pointing me toward the future and making me feel as though I would be ok. And what kid doesn’t need that? (See: God Doesn’t Have a Plan For Your Life)

When I became an adult, we weren’t as close. The family beach trips ended. My current golf opponents hit 9-irons farther the Charlie could ever hit a driver. Yet all these years later my appreciation for him couldn’t be more.

He loved me at a time in life when everyone needs love. And that investment continues to pay dividends.

Yesterday as I left the graveside of yet another COVID funeral I was officiating, I got the news that Charlie was also in the final hours of his life because of this virus. Before I went to bed, his life had ended. As it did, I laid my head on my pillow and thought “I’m the age now that he was then.” And that thought gave me a deeper appreciation for his love and life.

He invested in me and for that I’m grateful. It motivates me to invest in the lives of others.

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