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Charlie Cook

Learning Empathy from the Untouchable Hand

Photo by Vero Photoart on Unsplash

Growing up, my mother was big on teaching life lessons in a hands on sort of way. She took my sister and I to the nursing home so we could be exposed to elderly people who didn’t have family to visit and show them love and care. We didn’t have a lot of exposure to our grandparents for multiple reasons, so she wanted us to have that influence in our life. Today, the experience gives me empathy for older people that I don’t think I’d have otherwise. It gives me insight into the lonely life older people in those situations have.

Another thing my mom did was drive a church van and picked up kids from the hollers (you know the area between two hills where a few random people live, there is electric, but likely only well water or sometimes rain barrels to collect water) and back woods areas of our community, so that we would be exposed to true poverty. She wanted us to see those less fortunate and have a place of compassion in our hearts for them as well. She wanted us to realize that we aren’t better than others and people need each other no matter what the circumstance. This experience is what gave me my no judgment perspective. It instilled in me an acceptance of people and their problems and their quirks. It gave me a deep love for my fellow man.

She also adopted an older gentleman named Charlie Cook who lived in a camper beside the road. Even though I had been exposed to several types of people who needed love and care, Charlie Cook was on a completely different level. You see Charlie Cook wasn’t clean. He didn’t have trimmed fingernails, in fact, his fingernails were long, yellowed and curled under. He didn’t have clean teeth or a shaved face. His beard was long and also yellowed. Charlie Cook was a chain smoker, probably a heavy drinker and did I mention he had a certain noxious odor? Anyway, mom wanted to minister to him and his camper was on our way to church. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night we stopped by Charlie’s camper to see if he wanted to go to church. I remember giving a sigh of relief when he didn’t come out. There was a feeling of dread about who had to sit beside him in the back seat. My sister and I had to take turns, but neither of us looked forward to it. That five mile drive to church seemed to last hours as we attempted to hold our breath as much as possible.

I also remember his grateful spirit. He often brought little gifts for mom as a thank you. I remember once he brought her a dead squirrel that had seen better days. In fact, it was beyond use. Mom thanked him sincerely, and threw the squirrel away as soon as we got home. She decided to make some squirrel gravy and have him over to dinner. My sister and I were like, Mom really? Do we have to bring him to our house? Mom procured a fresh squirrel and cooked up a big ole mess of squirrel gravy and biscuits. For those of you who don’t know, you CAN eat a squirrel. Mom would gut it, skin it, cut the head and tail off and stew it. She pulled the meat off the bones and made gravy to serve it in. Dad went to pick up Charlie. You should have seen him with his hair slicked back and his best shirt on. He tried really hard to fit in and to show his gratefulness by putting his best foot forward.

My baby brother was less than a year old and he loved Charlie Cook. Charlie would get into the car and say “How’s the old man doing?” Charles (my brother) would just laugh and grab for Charlie’s finger. It was the “young man” and the “old man” together again. Charles didn’t have concern for the smell, the dirty fingernails or anything. He was just excited to see his friend again. However, even my saint of a mother cringed when her baby touched stinky, dirty Charlie.

This is one of the experiences that shape who I
am today. Those experiences taught me
not to judge and they taught me to love the person no matter what. I bring that empathy and framework to my
coaching. It doesn’t matter what you’ve
been through or where you have been. I
am here to give you a safe place to just be you, but also receive guidance and
support so that you can find more joy and excitement for your life. 

Sherry Parks is a Wellness Coach who helps career women escape feeling trapped and out of control in their work life, so that they are happy on their own terms and have joy and excitement for their life.

To contact Sherry for more information about coaching join her women only Facebook group Lives in Balance.

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