For fifteen years Charles had nearly perfect attendance at church yet he never said a word. It wasn't for lack of desire. Charles wanted desperately to speak and converse but the college professor, down hill skier, and music lover couldn't form a single syllable.
Charles was born healthy, vibrant and full of promise. With his sharp mind it was no surprise when he went on to become a college professor. He married his college sweetheart and faithful dancing partner. The two shared an impeccable sense of rhythm, a love for music and a thirst for adventure. It was on one such adventure to the ski slopes that changed Charles' life forever. On the way home from their favorite mountain Charles sat behind the wheel of their station wagon, zipping along the highway late at night while his wife slept in the seat beside him. Charles' eyes were groggy. The long day on the slopes had exhausted him. Tragedy struck when Charles fell asleep at the wheel and the car went careening off the side of the road, stopped by the impact of a tree.
When Charles woke up from a lengthy coma his life looked drastically different. His wife soon left him, overwhelmed by the burden of her husband's future life burdened by disability. Charles was unable to walk or feed himself. His vocal chords had been crushed in the accident, shattering his dreams of returning to the college lectern. Charles, the brilliant professor, would be mute for the rest of his life.
That was in 1978. Charles was only 36 years old.
Twenty years later I met Charles at church. He lived in a rehabilitation facility, walked with a cane, ate food pureed in a blender and couldn't say a word. But he could smile wide, dance in his seat and remember everyone's names. Charles was limited but he was alive.
After recovering from his injuries and regaining more mobility and independence then doctors believed possible, Charles determined to learn sign language. If he couldn't speak with his mouth he would sign with his hands. Charles' mind was still sharp and he quickly learned the ins and outs of the language. Soon a dream formed in his mind to become a sign language professor. Although his vocal box was crushed in the accident, Charles' teacher spirit was alive and well. He had new hope and a dream.
For years Charles worked towards seeing that dream become a reality. He contacted schools and other sign language teachers. He wrote countless letters and petitions to come on staff at colleges and training facilities. As the years ticked by the possibility of Charles' dream ever coming true became more remote. Family members tried to discourage him from even hoping any longer. When they realized they couldn't squelch his dream they simply stopped listening.
When Charles passed away just a few years ago he still resided in the same rehab facility he had lived in since I met him. He never did become a professor again. The dream of teaching sign language went unfilled but the hope never died. Even nearing death Charles still dictated letters of appeal to community colleges and still planned for his future as a teacher.
Some might say that the story of Charles is depressing and disheartening. He never saw his dream come true. His story didn't have a storybook happy ending. But I disagree.
Charles was determined to enjoy life in spite of unfilled dreams. He had little reason to hope yet he never let that stop him from living with great expectation for the future. In the meantime, he took pleasure in what life he had - no matter how limited. He danced in his seat. He sipped on his favorite chocolate milkshakes. He gave gigantic bear hugs at church. Charles enjoyed whooping his opponents in cribbage and playing lighthearted tricks on his visitors. To look at Charles' life you might think he had every reason to be discouraged, depressed and downtrodden but he lived with the joy of hope even in the face of adversity.
I don't know if the dreams I have for my life will come true. Maybe God has different plans. Only time will tell. While I wait to see what future God has in store for me I can follow in the example of Charles and determine to live fully in the life I have now. I can decide to be content in the capabilities I have today and find enjoyment in the simple pleasures that bless my day-to-day existence.
Right here and right now I can choose to be filled with joy no matter why the future holds for my hopes and dreams.