“Hello?” I recognized the voice on the other end of the phone. The number was actually correct. I hesitated to call, unsure if I even had the right number, wondering what exactly I would say if he did pick up.
“Hey Charlie, it’s Chase Butler.” After a brief pause, “You know, Sadie’s grandson.” You would have thought I told him he won the lottery as he responded with excitement and surprise.
Charlie has lived by himself next to my Grandmother’s house for decades. He’s a small, friendly man with few family members I’m aware of. Years ago he started to go blind, and he’s now confined to his home most days.
When I think back on memories of Charlie, I remember a time he taught me a magic trick with a key on the front porch of my Grandmother’s house. Another time he showed me a knife he made from an animal bone he found. He was well-read, had no shortage of stories, and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.
I can recall one conversation where he praised my curiosity and inquisitive nature. He, too, enjoyed learning and seeking. He said he and I were similar in that sense, and the compliment always stuck with me.
I’ve always felt a connection with Charlie. He’s one of those “guide” figures you see in literature—a quiet, subtle voice of wisdom. As wisdom often does, it comes from those sometimes on the fringes, easy to forget, easy to ignore.
A couple weeks ago I found myself on a long drive. I was in one of those “questioning your purpose” moods and actually feeling a little down on myself, chasing some existential rabbit hole of thought.
Out of nowhere I thought of Charlie, who I’ve not spoken to in at least a year, and realized I had his phone number. I called, and he picked up after a few rings. Immediately, the self-centered, anxiety-producing thoughts turned off, as Charlie began telling me about his world and asking about mine.
“Sometimes I have bad days, Chase, but I tell myself this too shall pass. But what I’m realizing now is that even on the good days I need to tell myself the same thing, this too shall pass. I’ve learned to be content in all things.”
Simple words from a profound perspective. Charlie spends most of his waking hours alone in darkness, but he has a joy that transcends circumstances, that rises above the loneliness, exceeds any sadness. It doesn’t ignore the bad days, but it informs and empowers the response.
It’s likely Charlie is sitting in his home by himself right now, listening to a book on tape, drinking coffee (he said he likes Starbucks dark blend), and pondering the love of God, waiting on the next opportunity to speak of the peace that surpasses all understanding to anyone who will listen.
Two things my heart instantly felt and stored away in the archives of my life when talking to Charlie...
First, when you’re too focused on yourself you so easily miss the ones who not only might need encouragement but are sitting at the ready to bless your soul. And second, bad days come, negative emotions are real, but the aim is contentment, and Charlie reminded me I have no excuse but to keep pressing on.
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