Straight Paths

I’m stepping out of my normal format this week. I’m not writing about a hospice patient, but about Charlie. I’m writing about one of those short-lived personal encounters that make a lifelong impression.

My wife and I bought our first house back in the seventies. It was a fixer upper, but unfortunately I wasn’t. I tore out the fireplace and gutted the kitchen and bathrooms, all at the same time. (Big mistake!) So we had to shower at my in-laws; and in the words of the Appalachian colloquialism, “We didn’t have a pot to …” Needless to say, things were 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. Charlie just showed up at the house one day and introduced himself.

In my eyes, Charlie was a relatively old fellow, in his late forties. He was short but stout and had an air of confidence and authority about him. He was a carpenter at the local steel mill and had been a civil engineer with the railroad. Charlie surveyed the chaos and asked, “What do you want to accomplish here?” He suggested, “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 felt so indebted to Charlie that I insisted on paying him, but he refused. He said, “Just promise me one thing in return. Just be willing to do the same thing for someone else.”

In retrospect, I’m so thankful that Charlie didn’t do the work for me; instead he “lined me out”; he taught me how to do it myself. I’m reminded of the axiom, “Give a man a fish and you feed him a meal; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I’m also reminded of the motto of the Charity Organization Society. It was a church-based assistance program established in the 1870s with the motto “A helping hand not a handout.”

I recently watched a movie that reminded me of Charlie, titled, “Pay It Forward.” A seventh 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 a student named Trevor shared his plan in front of the class — 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 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…”

Charlie lined me out on more than home remodeling that year. He lined me out on an immutable, wonderful, life-giving spiritual principle. Can you imagine what our world would be like, what we would be like, if we all made it our mission to “Pay it forward”? As Jesus instructed His disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at . You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course,” at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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