Charlie “Tremendous” Jones once told me, “You grow when you can’t go on, but you refuse to quit!”
I took what he said to heart, because I know he lived that philosophy. I’d read after him for years, and finally got the chance to meet him. I patiently stood in line for 8 months. When I stood before him, he was seated; so I did the automatic thing I’d learned as a hospital chaplain, and knelt to be at eye-level.
He was over 80 years old, a cancer survivor. The disease had ravaged his body and taken one of his eyes, for which he wore a black ‘pirate’ patch. I’m unsure what I expected as I offered my hand, but before I could speak, he strongly gripped my hand, scanned my face, looked me in the eye, and with a knowing, thoughtful look spoke his first words to me . . .
“Oh, you’re one of us, aren’t you?”
Somehow, my own health journey from certain death to life registered, and he knew it. He sensed it. I said yes, I am, and mumbled something semi-coherent about it being my honor to meet him after having spent so long reading his wisdom and amazing great attitude and wit. I started to stand, respecting the long line of others wanting to meet him.
He wasn’t having any of it. His face broke into a brilliant smile and said, “No-no-no, the honor is mine, and had we time I’d love to hear YOUR story.” He didn’t let go of my hand, but pulled me close, opening his other arm and embracing me. Being a believer in hug therapy, I welcomed it and carefully hugged him back. It was during that memorable moment he spoke in my ear those unforgettable words:
“You grow when you can’t go on, but you refuse to quit!”
I don’t remember much from the rest of that weekend business conference, for my spirit kept returning me in a glorious racetrack holding pattern to Charlie’s last words to me. I never saw him again before he was freed from this life to the Next.
I imagine him, excitedly exchanging human life episodes of amazing grace with hundreds of thousands of other ‘miracle’ survivors, uproariously laughing at the sheer audacity of God’s stunning interventions and the jaw-dropping awe they left in their wake.
When I one day join that merry band, I hope I can recall something I just read on a friend’s Facebook post this morning during quiet time, because I want to tell Charlie.
Being a recovering perfectionist, as a kid I rarely ever practiced my trumpet nor my voice outside of band, stage band, or choir. See, I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone – especially my parents – hearing me flub and frack notes. So I just didn’t practice at home, combining it instead with actual time in each of those classes.
I did okay, depending on natural musical ability to carry me. Point? I may have snookered the choir teacher, but I know John Sheeley, our band teacher, wasn’t fooled. I managed to keep enough chops to maintain my spot as 3rd Trumpet in Stage Band, and 2nd Section (I think, and mercifully so) in Band.
I could have been so much better . . .
Oh–you’re wanting to know what my friend, a gifted music teacher, posted?
You practice FOR rehearsal, NOT DURING rehearsal.
Wow. That’s for those who somehow get the notion life is a dry run, a dress rehearsal. We all know better. Youth foxes us with ideas of forever youngness – and suddenly here is my graduating class from 1970 prepping for our 50th class reunion this coming August.
My teacher friend’s trenchant directive sounds just like something Charlie’d say.
In all the excitement of being Home one day, I hope I remember to tell ‘im. And thanks, Karen, for the great reminder. It’s not hard to see why you’re the teacher you are.
© D. Dean Boone, March 2020