This summer I had the privilege of being a direct support worker in a couple group homes for men with varying disabilities. There was a man (we’ll call him Charlie) who was my age at one of the homes I worked at. This home is for people who are quite dependent and need a lot of assistance with personal care. The first time I met Charlie, I was intimidated and a bit unsettled by his appearance. Charlie was a bit shorter than me and much skinnier. His back had a distinct curve and he had a big bald spot on his head, maybe from rubbing it against walls. I hated that I felt uncomfortable around him because of his appearance, how superficial could I be? It took me a while to warm up to Charlie, and it took him even longer to warm up to me, but by the end of the summer I really truly cared about Charlie and loved working with him.
Charlie loved to go for walks and would walk for hours every day, but only if there was someone to hold his hand. At the beginning of my time spent at this home, I dreaded taking my turn walking Charlie outside. My pain often got worse with walking and I always got exhausted from his long walks. But, as summer passed, going for walks with Charlie became the highlight of my day. Charlie didn’t smile much (he was also nonverbal) but as soon as you stepped outside into the sun with him his face would light up with a big toothless grin. Often he would start dancing and laughing as if he had just received the best gift ever. Charlie made me realize that I take gifts like that for granted. I am often too busy trying to feel good or feeling like my body sucks too much to enjoy life.
Charlie’s story is really heart-breaking. Before he had come to his last two group homes, he was shuffled around in the foster care system. Charlie was really sick before coming to the home that I worked at. He had a hard time keeping his food down and would vomit throughout the night on the daily. Apparently his last foster home was especially bad. At his last foster home, his caregivers would lock his door at night and let him out in the morning and clean up the mess then. When Charlie came to our group home, he was just under forty pounds and about twenty years old. Thankfully, shortly after coming to our home, Charlie had a surgery that made it easier for him to eat and to keep his food down. When I started working with him, he had reached almost one hundred pounds and he had some newfound peach fuzz on his upper lip.
During the summer, I was reading the book Where is God When it Hurts by Philip Yancey. There was a section in that book about having hope in the resurrection. Up until this past year, I had never really given much thought to the idea that my body may one day be resurrected and transfigured into perfection. In fact, I don’t think I really believed in that teaching at all. But when I went for walks with Charlie and held onto his hand tight, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Charlie was growing a lot this past summer and I started to imagine what it’d be like if one day he started to be able to communicate with words. What if one day I could have a conversation with him without it being one-sided? Charlie got really sick at the end of the summer, and he stopped smiling when we went for walks. One day while walking, I realized we were both in pain and wanted the walk to end. I started to put my faith in there being something after this life. I imagined meeting Charlie again one day and seeing him for all that he is in his transfigured body, and I couldn’t wait.
Charlie passed away a week after I stopped working at his home. The summer before this past summer I had applied to work at Charlie’s home in a different town, but turned that opportunity down last minute. When my supervisor asked if I wanted to work at his home in the town I was living in at the time I was very reluctant because I didn’t like the idea of having to do a lot of personal care. I am so glad that I didn’t miss my chance to meet Charlie because he made my summer so much more meaningful than it would have been otherwise. Every time he smiled in the sun, he reminded me that I should be smiling, too.