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Charlie: Lessons in love delivered from a wheelchair.

In 1967, when I was 17 years old, I first met Charlie. He was a patient in a rehabilitation unit where I worked. Charlie, six feet four inches, a husband and father of two little girls, had fallen asleep at the wheel of his semi-trailer while working double shifts. He ended up a quadriplegic.

Charlie looked at life differently. Even though he couldn't walk, he helped me take many small spiritual steps that drew me closer to God.

Little Charlie was eight inches long. His coat was lime-green, and a jagged mane of red material separated his eyes. He looked like a plump green and red exclamation mark. He held a red, plastic, pennant-shaped sign in his right hand that read "100% Lovable!" I knew Charlie would get a kick out him.

I sat outside Charlie's small bungalow, revving the engine of my 1961 Volkswagen Beetle. Warm air nibbled at the frost covering most of my front window on this bitterly cold night. A long wheelchair ramp ran up to the front door of the house, testimony that this family was caring for a special person. I switched off the motor and made my way to the front door.

Ruth, Charlie's wife, greeted me with a warm hug. I followed her into the living room where Charlie's face glowed with the joy of living. I gave him a hug and sat down to talk about the week's events. Charlie would have none of that.

"Where is that surprise you told me about?" he asked.

When I held out Little Charlie, Charlie's face broke into a big smile. He read the words on Little Charlie's red pennant. "I wish all of us felt we were 100 per cent lovable' he said.

I was about to reply affirmatively when Charlie continued. Little Charlie had triggered a critical and painful memory.

"I felt anything but lovable on my first day home from the hospital. It was one of the lowest days of my life. The complexities of my new reality struck me. The hospital support systems were suddenly gone. Although my wife and children were thrilled to have me home, I could tell I had become an incredible burden. At that moment, I felt worthless -- anything but lovable."

Tears began running down his face as he continued to talk. "I felt totally useless in every respect. I couldn't even contribute to running the house. I loved Ruth so much and felt she deserved someone better -- someone who could help with the house, someone who could bring in a salary, someone who could help raise the children. The evening planned as a home-coming celebration felt like one of my greatest defeats. I could not believe anyone could love me. I remember withdrawing into myself, into a small suffocating world of my own.

"My brother came later in the evening to help put me to bed. Ruth came over to kiss me goodnight. As she stroked my forehead, she told me how glad she was to have me back home. I told her how I was feeling. I said she should consider putting me into a chronic care facility. I was nothing but a burden.

"I'll never forget what she said. She told me her love was not determined by what I could do. She married and loved the person inside me. I objected, telling her she didn't understand. Regardless of what came up, she said, we would find a solution to the problem. The important thing was for us to be together as a family. That was the first time in my life I felt 100 per cent lovable.

"Throughout my life, I feared anyone who really knew me would not accept me. I did things for people, hoping to gain their acceptance. The accident forced me to review my relationships. I had to ascertain which relationships contained real love and which contained bought love. That single defining moment turned out to be a critical turning point for me." As he spoke these words, Charlie's tear-glazed face broke into a loving, reminiscent smile.

"Wow, when I brought Little Charlie here, I never expected this type of response," I said. "I hope everything is OK."

Charlie smiled and asked me to wipe the tears from his face. "Little Charlie will remind us that, no matter what, we are all 100 per cent lovable."

"Do you mean like a mother's love or something like that?" I asked.

"I am blessed to have a wonderful wife who provides unconditional love," he replied. "But many people don't feel 100 per cent lovable. That's why it is wonderful God finds us 100 per cent lovable. We only have to bring our sins to him and ask him to help us and forgive us. When I commune with God in prayer each day, I can feel his love. It's a love that permeates my entire being. The great thing is we are all equal in God's sight, and God washes us clean every time we come to him." Charlie's face glowed as he finished these words.

"I think I know what you mean," I responded. "As a Christian, I've always felt I've fallen short of the mark. I guess you're right, though. If I'm continuously in contact with God, I can experience both cleansing and help. I hadn't thought of being 100 per cent lovable in God's eyes. Maybe I can quit faulting myself and start building myself in God's love. You mentioned having bought love in your life. Do you mind me asking what you meant by that?"

"I don't mind at all," he replied. "But, first, what time is it?"

"Eight o'clock," I said.

"Sorry, I'll have to tell you about that on our next visit. One of my three most important tasks of the day awaits me. I read a bedtime story to my children. We're in Chapter 2 of Peter the Trout. Peter is in the middle of a new stream and in trouble. He doesn't realize that all the edible things in the stream aren't safe to eat."

I hugged Charlie's shoulders and said goodbye. Ruth came into the room and wheeled Charlie into the children's bedroom. While I was waiting to say goodbye to her, I thought about Charlie's words -- words filled with pain, knowledge and healing. I had a lot to think about between now and our next visit.

Don Davis is a member of St. Andrew's Church in Aurora, Ont. From 1967 to 1970, he worked with people having lower and upper spinal injuries at Manitoba Rehabilitation Hospital.
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Author:Davis, Don
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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