Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Friends Helping Each Other Cope

In the fall of 2002 I had the good fortune of meeting a 13 year-old-boy named Charles Pillow. He was shy at first, obviously very bright with a great smile. I had been recruited by my neighbor, Tam, to spend a couple of hours a week to help Charles study and be his friend. Truth be told, the previous year had rocked me to the point to where I needed Charles more than he needed me.

As the weeks wore on we covered the typical ground of an 8th grade curriculum: American history (a cinch and joy for me - a history minor); English - reading, writing, parts of speech and sentence diagramming (helping him write was fun for me, the later tasks were nerve wracking because an English major should breeze through the technical rules - not me, I miss editors; Science - surprisingly fun; Math - mostly pre-algebra (I loved algebra in school and was very thankful to have been able to pick it up without having to ask a real teacher).

All in all I felt pride in knowing I could pass the 8th grade again and Charles really didn't need me to pass the 8th grade either. He would ask me a question and I would say, "I don't know, Charles, let's look it up." My best help was teaching him how to rely on himself to find the answer by himself. We also spent time in whispered conversation about rappers such as Snoop, 50-cent and Eminem. These talks were clandestine because Charles wasn't supposed to be listening to rap and we were meeting in the fellowship hall of his church. He thought it was funny that I knew these guys and their music. I enjoyed watching him learn and watching him smile.

By the beginning of the 2003 school year my mobility issues had reached the point that I did not need to be behind the wheel so my tutoring days ended. As you would expect - we did not stay in touch but I would get the occasional update from Tam. Out of the blue he called one afternoon when I really needed a good surprise.

"Mr. Nelson," the deep voice boomed.

"Yes," I replied.

"This is Charles," he said.
"Charles - who?" I was drawing a blank.

"Aw, man, you know - Charles Pillow!"

It was with great pride he told me about playing cornerback for his high school team - Hunters Lane, his good grades, his girlfriend(s), "Aw, you know," he explains. He gave me his plans for college and brought the conversation to his reason for calling, "I just called to say, 'Thanks, you know, for working with me back then'." I told Charles it was my pleasure and I meant it. I told Charles he could call me anytime and we hung up.

The next spring an invitation to Charles' graduation came in the mail. I wrote him a note and enclosed the best gift you can give the new graduate - cash. Again I thought back on our time together and smiled to think of his development and my tiny role in helping him by being his friend.

A few months ago, my phone rang and it was Charles again. He was doing well with his classes but the pressure of school and the high cost of living had him debating whether to switch schools so he could stay at home and commute rather than strain to survive life on his own and handle greater debt later. Tough choices a lot of young people are facing today. I gave him my best advice and hoped I had helped but I could sense he was having a tough time.

Last week, Tam emailed me that Charles was awaiting exploratory surgery after going to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain. The anxiety mounted as no word came until the next morning when Tam emailed the news that an eight hour exploratory surgery yielded intestinal blockages and the removal of a dead appendix.

After five days Charles was released from the hospital yesterday, July 20th, and faces a lengthy rehab at home. I've called and talked to his mom and sent him a card and would like to ask my friends to also send Charles a "Get Well Soon," message if you can. It would make his day to get some surprise greetings from strangers and anything I can do to promote this young man's happiness and well being makes my day.

Please send a card to: Charles Pillow, 3824 Northbrook Drive, Nashville, TN 37207

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