I met Charles for the first time at one of the coffee shops on campus where he generously agreed to share some of his life’s journey with me. An hour later, I felt like I had reconnected with an old friend. His kind and gentle spirit are undeniable, and yet there’s a determined drive toward action underneath – a quality that brings to mind a carefully arranged choral piece with its steady bass notes keeping time for the graceful melody line that floats over top.
As a child, Charles wanted to become a pilot, but his mother nudged him toward music instead. “I was interested in flying as a kid, but my mother said, ‘you want a higher calling than that,’ and I went, ‘oh, mom, that’s pretty high!’” he joked. Nevertheless, Charles pursued a degree in music education from Nyack College in New York State, and later moved to Ontario, just across the river from Buffalo, where he taught music in schools and sang with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. After 39 years, Charles decided that it was time to be near his family again, so he moved back to Pennsylvania and joined his siblings as a resident at Messiah Lifeways® at Messiah Village.
After the move, Charles participated in the choir on campus and continued to share his musical gifts to uplift others. At the same time, he developed other hobbies stemming from this desire to encourage and pray for people. “I began to make decorative doorstops with a variety of inscriptions on them,” Charles explained. “I have notebooks being filled with letters of thanks [for these doorstops] from politicians, governors, mayors, ministers – all sorts of people. And these doorstops are all over the world, really. I have doorstops in at least one church in every state of the union!” he noted with amazement.
One favorite inscription is, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God…” from Psalm 84. Others are more poignant: “Healing and health to all who go through these doors,” in medical offices. And even, “Thinking of suicide as an exit? Choose the door of life,” judiciously placed at a nearby college.
These simple little doorstops are treated with care and intentionality as Charles prays over each phrase and destination. “That’s given me incredible satisfaction,” he reflected. “I can pray for the people who kick them around. They’ll never know!”
Years ago, Charles also felt led to pray for those who suffer from tremors, which he continues to do to this day – a practice that took on much more significance when Charles started experiencing those very same tremors himself.
“It started small,” Charles recalled. “But I did find out that other people picked up on something.”
Eventually, he brought up the issue with his doctor. After seeking multiple opinions, Charles was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60 (www.michaeljfox.org). Symptoms generally develop slowly over years and vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are tremors, limb rigidity, balance problems, slow movement, and speech changes. The cause remains largely unknown (www.mayoclinic.org).
“It’s just of late…that Parkinson’s has been more accepted. A generation ago, maybe they didn’t know what it was, or else they weren’t willing to acknowledge it,” Charles reflected. “I’m terribly thankful for the acceptance that I’ve received here [at Messiah Village]. And I’m glad I came before all of this began to take shape. I got to know the people and be around them, rather than coming after. I just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to lay the background for relationships.”
One of the pastors on campus encouraged Charles to join a support group for those living with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. The group meets bi-weekly at Messiah Village. Through that group, Charles also made a connection with Jerry, who introduced him to Rock Steady Boxing. “I wouldn’t be where I am now had it not been for that,” Charles said definitively.
Rock Steady Boxing is a non-profit organization that encourages participants to literally “Fight Back” against Parkinson’s. Their goal is to give “people with Parkinson’s disease hope by improving their quality of life through a non-contact boxing based fitness curriculum” (www.rocksteadyboxing.org). Thankfully, there is a franchise very close-by in Camp Hill.
The Rock Steady Boxing classes are full of intense physical activity for about an hour, three times a week. Studies clearly point toward physical exercise as a very effective way to improve and delay many symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease such as tremors and balance-issues. “I didn’t use a cane,” Charles said of his first 6-months in the class. ”I was just on my feet doing almost everything that we talked about or did!”
But there are still limitations that Charles contends with regularly. Tremors prevent him from using the tools necessary to fashion his inscribed doorstops without assistance. “I haven’t been able to work with the power tools down in the shop,“ Charles shared. “But the therapy department has been down with me a couple times, and if I can get someone else to work with me…I would still like to make some more.”
That’s the thing that I found so inspiring about Charles. Yes, he’s obviously a kind soul, but he will not entertain thoughts of defeat. Instead, his eyes are ever-focused ahead and on how to bless someone else.
Charles’ faith has given him strength and hope throughout this process. He continues to pray for others who experience tremors and has even written and recorded a prayer that’s been uploaded to YouTube. It’s entitled, “A Prayer for those of us with Parkinson’s, Tremors, or Similar Neurological Issues” and calls upon scripture and personal experiences to offer “wisdom, healing, and peace to all who may read or hear this prayer.”
A lot is happening in his life that others might feel depressed or resentful about, but Charles chooses laughter and hope instead. Throughout our conversation, he would stop to interject a witty comment or chuckle at a memory he shared. In fact, Charles believes laughter is essential. “I have four really wonderful people that I sit with [for meals]. And one of them is funny – we laugh, and laugh, so that’s part of my medicine. I say, ‘June, you provide the laughing medicine for me!’ So, I’m glad I have that.” Charles smiled. “I want to be positive no matter what.”
“On the inside of my door, I have, ‘Do not be afraid; be anxious about nothing,’” Charles added, referencing Philippians chapter 4. “And that means, be anxious about nothing! You know, be anxious about everything but Parkinson’s? It doesn’t say that, it says be anxious about nothing! So sometimes I break out, just on the edge of laughter!” Charles chuckled and tapped the table for emphasis. “I don’t have to be anxious about this! So, as I said, I’m not sure what will – what the path is now in front of me, but I just do what I can.”
A Prayer for those of us with Parkinson’s, Tremors, or Similar Neurological Issues
Messiah Lifeways serves individuals 55+ living in South Central Pennsylvania including: Mechanicsburg, Dillsburg, Harrisburg, Camp Hill, Carlisle, Hershey, Mount Joy, New Cumberland and many points in between!