Charlene Churchill

Photo Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Ellsworth

A week ago from Sunday, my friend Charlene died of pancreatic cancer. 

That’s a hard sentence to write. 

It’s even harder when I think of hanging out with Charlene this summer. A retired librarian, she worked at the campground we were staying at while we rented our house. Charlene made my introverted self feel safe and happy even when surrounded by camping extroverts. Whenever I saw her, I would smile. Charlene was like that. She calmed me. 

One day we whispered over the counter in the campground office about my new neighbor’s shenanigans of the porn-rated kind, which weren’t a big deal except the noise. I wasn’t super excited about having to explain to the ten-year-old what the noises coming from the next tent over were about. 

“They’re gone tomorrow,” Charlene assured me. “I promise. You can make it one more day, right?”

One more day. 

Photo via Jack Frost via Ellsworth Rotary Club

“Whenever I’m having a hard time,” she added, “I tell myself, ‘Look at this beautiful sunrise. Look at this person I get to talk to. I’m lucky. I can do anything for one more day.” 

When Charlene told me about her diagnosis the summer was over and we were all out of the campground and I wasn’t getting my almost daily dose of Charlene. All my internal organs seemed to drop six inches as I read her message. There was this hole inside of me that was sudden and huge and real.

It was October and she wrote, 

Thanks for your faith in me but I’m afraid I’ve been handed one that may be too tough for me. I have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the tumor seems to be growing quickly. I think I’m not beating this one. That’s ok too. Trying to stay ahead of the pain is hard.

I told her that she was amazing and strong and brilliant and how much I love her and she wrote: 

I sure don’t feel strong right now. 

And I thought, “Crap. Neither do I.”

But I wrote, “You are soul strong.”

That was true.

No matter what happened, Charlene was always soul strong. 

Photo courtesy of Charlene’s Facebook via Timberland Acres

This past summer at the campground, Charlene wanted me to share a story I wrote about death and a camper’s wife, and how the campground is this beautiful place that inspires community no matter what, how it endures even as ownership, staff and campers change, about how the connections we create matter. I didn’t want to share the story too widely because I didn’t want to exploit the woman’s pain. Charlene respected that. Charlene respected a lot of things.

Charlene was special because she understood that the needs of individual people are greater than the needs of a company or of marketing. She was special because she believed in empathy, in story, and in the power of goodness. 

She knew all about the power of goodness because my detail-oriented friend spent her life devoted to doing good. 

Charlene was part of Rotary International and was constantly giving back to her community (local and international) by volunteering. Charlene was a champion of books and writers. She made me feel special even as I started to write. I believed in myself partly because Charlene believed in me. I started being a writer when Charlene was the director of the Ellsworth Public Library. She took this scared, socially anxious writer under her wing and held me close, celebrating every thing I did like she was the mom I never had. 

My dog Sparty is a great judge of character and he would get so excited if Charlene drove by in the campground golf cart. He’d hop into the cart and try to ride around with her. He looked proud to know her. 

I know how that felt. 

This summer we talked about how neither of us have any depth perception because we don’t see out of our left eyes. We had no idea that we shared this issue and laughed about parking cars, driving, bumping into door frames, being miserable at any sport where things fly at you (tennis, softball, volleyball).

“This must be one of the zillion reasons I love you,” I said as we stood under a blue-blue sky beneath the boughs of pines as squirrels chittered away above us, talking too. 

“That’s a reason why you love me?” She laughed. “I hope the other reasons are better.”

They were. 

Charlene told me about a long-lost love that she reconnected with. She went completely out of her comfort zone to do that, to even tell me about it, but she looked so proud of being vulnerable and being brave. 

“Life is too short to be afraid. I’m done being afraid,” she said. 

“I am so in awe of you,” I told her. 

“Ha!” She laughed. “I’m in awe of you.”

Campground lady friends picked her up. They all wore white slacks and nice shirts and were heading out on one of their weekly adventures, which was usually to shop or to go to a restaurant for lunch.

They looked so happy, so in-the-moment, so alive. 

And I vowed that next summer at the campground that I would make a massive effort to visit with Charlene every single day she worked and I’d bring my dogs that she loved so much and learn as much as I could about this woman, this magnificent Rotarian, librarian, human and white-slacks-wearing friend. 

She died five months later. It was right before Christmas. This summer never happened. But other summers have and I am so lucky. We are all so lucky. 

She had travelled to Houston for special treatment, but her body was already breaking and instead she had emergency surgeries, increasing bills, and a lot of pain. Her local Rotary club had a fundraiser and I made a basket for an auction (for my Rotary club), but couldn’t go because I was teaching a three-hour class that day at the same time.

Even though Charlene was still in Texas, I felt like the worst friend because I couldn’t be at that fundraiser because I had responsibilities. Charlene, a Rotary secretary, a library director, understood about responsibilities though. She understood about so many things.

I am in awe of Charlene, but I am also in awe of you – all my friends who read this, who I get to connect to, and I am in awe of all you do and how hard you try and how much you hope and work for good. Let’s lift each other up and do this together, okay? In honor of Charlene and all we’ve lost. 

Continue reading “Charlene Churchill”
Advertisements

Choosing Love in Times of Hate

Sometimes we go through our lives, putting memories of who we used to be into boxes. I am no longer a fourth-grader desperately searching for Big Foot, hiding in the closet at night, obsessed with singing and Doctor Who and trees. And those pieces of who we used to be become blurry pictures, filtered-too-much images of what we once loved and once made us breathe.

Moments pass and go, but certain universals? They stay.

One of those universals is love. And I’m constantly reminded by that in times of hate.

Pride in Each other

Carlos Itzab, the principal of the Chen Chow School in Belize is proud of Mayra. 

It isn’t because she smiles a lot or that she’s well behaved, but shy.

It’s because she’s smart, very smart. Carlos opens Mayra’s spelling notebook and proudly displays her writing to the American Rotarians from Bar Harbor/MDI Rotary Club and Rotary Club of Ellsworth,Maine who are assembled around her, putting together her new wheelchair while her classmates watch.

“Her writing is perfect,” he says, standing straighter, smiling.

Shelly Falk, incoming president of the Rotary Club of Corozal agrees. “It is perfect.” 

“She is very good. Her grammar is so good,” Carlos’ voice becomes a whisper, “so much better than the others.”

Helping Each other

The other students in Mayra’s standard one (equivalent to U.S. grade three) don’t mind that Mayra is so smart. They seem proud of her too. Because she has issues with both her arms and legs, they volunteer to sharpen her pencils for her, to help her in a multitude of ways, every single day.

She helps them too. She helps them write better.

“The children take care of each other,” Carlos says. “It warms your heart, you know?” 

The local club in Belize has also helped the school with its feeding program and other things such as providing picnic tables. But today, it is all about Mayra who is getting her new wheelchair. It is about Mayra who is too shy to look up much of the time until after I show her the picture I took of her with my camera. Then she is all smiles. 

Sometimes when you are very smart, it’s hard to smile. Sometimes when you are very young, it’s hard to trust. And sometimes the best smiles are the ones that aren’t easy, but the ones that are earned. 

Mayra’s smiles are like that. 

Smiles are only moments, aren’t they? But they are moments of connection where friendships and understanding are made. Sometimes those connections fade like all memories and moments. But sometimes they last and when they do?

That’s what makes you choose love in a time of hate.

That’s what makes you believe in magic and goodness again. Even when the memory of who you once were fades like Bigfoot hunts and tree obsessions. It is a memory that stays inside of you, that longing for connection and good.

Choose good.

Details

The Rotary Club of Corozal was in charge of the distribution of wheelchairs in its area. The distribution throughout Belize was heavily helped by the Rotary Club of Belize. Members of the Bar Harbor/MDI Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Ellsworth, Maine raised money to fund the wheelchairs through the Canadian Wheelchair Association and traveled to Belize to help fit, size, and distribute the chairs.

Writing News

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things! 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. Image

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Superheroes-7-1.jpg


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

ART

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_0393-2-963x1024.jpeg

You can buy some of my art. I paint to help inform my stories and some of the prints are available now. There will be more soon. You can check it out here.