Charlie Counts

Charlie Counts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Charlie Counts

If you help someone up a hill, you’re that much closer to the top yourself.

Carol Jacobsen

Charlie McCrary served with pride as my mailroom attendant. As the administrative director of a small government agency, I oversaw all the resources that the employees needed to perform their duties—office space, salary, supplies, furniture, and the mail service. Charlie was my right hand in the mailroom, fifty years old, a head-injury survivor, a gentleman, and an obstacle in the way of those rushing through life with sharper reflexes.

At times I failed to fully listen to Charlie. Then I wrestled with my conscience until I made a point to chat about his annual vacation, his volunteer work at the hospital, or his beloved University of South Carolina Gamecocks in spite of my alumni status with archrival Clemson University. Those who took the time to hear and study Charlie learned that he was a phenomenal person in spite of his physical obstacle. On a clerk’s salary, he was debt-free and owned a condominium in town, a sedan, and managed a little account that enabled him to take trips to such places as Alaska, Israel, and assorted Bowl games. Having no wife or children, he had the ability to escape his menial mail tasks and follow his passion to travel. I admired his drive to be part of the world.

One morning Charlie arrived at work, smiling as usual, but complaining about his forearm. As his supervisor and friend, I asked why. Charlie often rode the bus to save money. He explained that the evening before, he had awaited the stoplight change, then stepped off the curb to approach the bus stop across the street. An impatient young man ran the red light and knocked Charlie over his hood onto the pavement.

“Charlie! Are you okay? Tell me what happened! Have you told your family?” I asked questions, expecting to hear all about the excitement and pending legal or insurance claim. As director over human resources, I also knew about Charlie’s medical coverage. “Have you been to the doctor?”

“No. My wrist hurts, but it doesn’t look bad. The guy stopped and we exchanged driver’s licenses, but before I could write everything down, he grabbed it out of my hand and sped off. Why would he do that?”

I made him tell me everything he remembered, which was remarkably detailed—the man’s name, the make and model of the car, the license tag, even that the guy was headed to a job interview and was currently unemployed.

Most people underestimated Charlie, and I suspected this driver had as well once they’d started talking. I didn’t want the experience to fade away and erase what he remembered, so I gave him an assignment to write everything down for me by the end of the day. Recording it for him would have slighted his feelings.

“So what is your family doing about it?” Charlie lived alone. Sometimes his siblings knew about his daily details, and other times they, too, became busy with life’s demands.

“Nothing. Since I wasn’t really hurt, they said to forget about it.”

“What about the authorities? Did you call them?”

“Honest, I talked to them. I walked over to the police station and told them all about it. I couldn’t call them on the street corner. I don’t have a cell phone. Besides, the other guy was gone. But the police wouldn’t even take my report. They said there was nothing they could do.”

“Charlie, go to the doctor for your wrist. It could be broken. I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“But what about my deductible?”

“Charlie, if you can’t afford it, I’ll pay the deductible. Go get some medical attention.”

The next day, Charlie returned in an arm cast protecting a mild fracture. The most sympathy Charlie received from coworkers came in the form of, “good thing you weren’t really hurt or even killed.” I seethed that someone had run down this man and evaded responsibility. I sensed that Charlie’s limitations led everyone, including the police, to take less interest in his narrow escape. I called my husband, who worked in law enforcement.

“What can we do about this? Charlie doesn’t have much money for medical bills and therapy for his arm. That other guy’s insurance ought to be paying for this. Instead, no one gives a damn! Not a soul.”

The man I married possessed a gruff exterior but a huge heart for the underdog. “Give me the information you have, and I’ll see what I can find out. Think Charlie would give us permission to represent him, since no one is listening to him?” By the end of the day, I had power-of-attorney to handle the situation for Charlie, and the momentum to support a man who no one took seriously.

The next day, my husband picked us up for lunch. We ate in our leisure van and chatted with Charlie to make sure my husband had all the information necessary to pursue some answers. We praised him for having such keen forethought to note such clarity in detail, and we assured him we’d do everything possible to recover his medical bills. Charlie felt like a king receiving so much attention. He beamed the rest of the day just knowing someone cared. If we accomplished nothing else, we’d stroked his feelings to show he wasn’t always alone.

Ten days later, after we’d held multiple conversations with the driver, the driver’s mother (who owned the car), the driver’s insurance company, and the company’s attorney, Charlie held written promise of a $2,000 settlement. He had enough to cover his medical deductibles, loss of time for doctor visits, and a little extra for pain and suffering. The amount represented a substantial sum to him—close to two months’ take-home pay.

Charlie diligently reported to work in his cast, continuing to distribute mail, open boxes, and stack supplies. He saved every dime that didn’t go to doctor bills and invested the funds. He resumed his routine like nothing had happened, holding no grudge against the driver, the police, family, or friends.

I, on the other hand, rode a high for weeks knowing that a wrong had been righted. I couldn’t pass Charlie without smiling, without stopping to hear about the fall prospects for his college football team, or his plans for another trip. All my errands, my deadlines, my rushing to and fro seemed frivolous in comparison to listening to the words of a man who had little audience. Never before had I realized how mere listening exemplified a simple, honorable, proper way to give back to humanity. Yes, I deduced, Charlie counts.

Cynthia Hope Clark

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