Sunday, March 3, 2013

You're a Good Man, Charley Brown

March 3, 2013

Dear friends,

Learning from books and thinking new ideas were relatively easy for me as a child. I often completed my assigned school work with time left over.

One afternoon I asked my busy teacher what I could do next (I am sure it was not the first time that day I had asked that question).

“What do you want to do?” she countered patiently.

I hesitated. Then inspiration struck.

"I’ll write a story.” I said. “You tell me how and I’ll write a story. How do you write a story?”

It was my teacher’s turn to hesitate. After a moment she said, “Well, you start and make a beginning, and then you work out a middle part, and then you tell the ending.”

I could see the logic of this, but I could also see a major problem.

“Yes, but how do you know where to begin?” I asked.

I smile now remembering this early conscious confrontation with one of a writer’s continuing dilemmas. I now know that beginnings are often difficult to find, and often make no sense at all until you can see the end. Consequently, the writer sometimes begins with something from the ending tacked to a piece of the middle, and only then tackles the difficult task of saying a beginning. And sometimes the writer is faced with telling only the unboundaried piece of the story that the writer can see with little sense of its beginning, middle or end.

Today’s story is like that. I am sharing the fragment of another person’s story that overlapped with my own. Perhaps your life will give you good context for this story and you will add a good beginning, middle, or end.

This part of the story happened at that difficult time when afternoon therapy and structured activities were ended for the day, but it was not yet time for dinner. Residents were restless and tired. Many felt discouraged with the day’s small progress or disheartened by the apparent lack of it.

As the day drew to a close and the lights came on, almost all residents sensed again their displacement—they could sit in the activity center, or return to their rooms. But both options echoed a painful reality—no one was going home for dinner. It was a space in which it was dangerously easy to trigger unwittingly aggressive behavior that carried pain and anger and unvoiced disappointment.

I was returning to my room when behind me I heard suddenly raised voices, and then a man shouting unintelligible words, his voice full of rage. I turned my wheelchair awkwardly and then could see the usually quiet man who sat at the table near the window at meal times. He was standing in front of his wheelchair, shouting, waving his clenched fist at the tiny nurse who was trying to reason with him, his body shaking, his voice thick with anger.

At that moment a young administrator entered the residential area from the corridor that led to the business office. Without altering his pace, he walked quietly up to the angry man and said with calm good humor, “Hey, dude, I need you to help me solve this problem.” He then touched the man’s shoulder lightly, and said, “You know, I need you to help me and sit down here in your chair.”

There was a long tense moment in which no one moved. Then the man stopped shouting, and slowly, clinging to the young man’s arm, he sat down in his chair, his body still trembling, his face distorted by emotion.

Clearly, however, the crisis was past.

People traffic began to flow around the three, individuals moving by without comment, intent on their own affairs. The young man waited for a quiet moment, then bending his head so that he looked directly into the man’s eyes, he said gently, “Thanks, fella. You’re a good man.”

The man did not move. Then he said, “You know, I try.” I thought that his voice was thick then with tears, not with rage. He covered his face with his hands as the young nurse wheeled him away.

Later as I sat in my room thinking about the piece of the story I had seen, I could hear again the man’s voice as he said, “You know, I try.”

I will never know more of this story, but it teaches me. That part of people’s behavior that I see does not always give me an accurate picture of the effort and struggle and the desperate desire to ‘do it right’ that lies within.

We are commanded to do justice.

We are also commanded to love mercy.

I am committed this week to saying more often, "You’re a good man, Charley Brown."

See you next week.


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