It’s tough to lose a close friend. As I write this post, I am in mourning; in mourning for Chuck Caton, a man who taught me a little more about love and a lot more about wearing my heart on my sleeve. And…I grieve for the man who convinced me that it is OK to cry.
It is hard for me to think of Chuck, without thinking of Liz. I can’t imagine one without the other. There was a deep bond of love between them. From the very first moment Chuck met Liz, he was hooked. Their love never diminished. It took root, grew and perpetually bloomed.
Now sometimes Chuck was bit over the top. We would be sitting around the table arguing politics, when all of a sudden Chuck would go silent, his eyes would fill to the brim and he would say, “Isn’t Liz beautiful? I love her.” This did not happen just once. There were frequent commercial breaks in which Chuck would remind his listening audience of his undying devotion to Liz. It was a bit much, but it was also sincere.
Chuck and Liz asked me to marry them. I was honored to do so. When the big day arrived, Chuck went off script. I asked, “Chuck, will you take Liz to be your wife?”
The correct answer is “I will.” Chuck, however, ad libbed, “Isn’t she beautiful? I love her!”
Chuck and Liz taught me something about the true nature of love. They taught me that love requires vulnerability, a giving of one’s heart without reserve. Without such vulnerability love fails to take root. It withers and fades. Love is a risky business, because not only do we open our hearts, but we also pledge that we will keep them open “for better or for worse until death do us part.” Easy to say when all is well, but not so easy to do when the dominoes of our lives are falling. Nevertheless, through thick and thin, Chuck and Liz’s love never wavered. They gave each other their hearts without fear or reserve.
Chuck also taught me to wear my heart on my sleeve. For Chuck, love meant to get your hands dirty. No need to preach, just live what you believe and it will be a sermon in and of itself. For Chuck, a great sermon was working on a Habitat house or putting new windows in a hospice home. It was not only to advocate for peace, but also to live peacefully…every day.
Chuck stood for justice for ALL people. He respected the uniqueness of all of God’s children. What do we not understand about Jesus’ instructions to “love one another and to judge not?” I never heard Chuck ask that question of anybody. He didn’t have to. He lived it. Thank you, Chuck, for teaching me to shut up once in awhile. To let my actions speak louder than my words.
Just about every Sunday I preached during my years in New Hartford, New York, Chuck would come out of church with tears running down his cheeks. He would say, “You got to me again.”
I would reply, “For God’s sake, Charlie, you are so easy. You started crying when I said, ‘Good morning!’”
My Dad taught me that “big boys don’t cry.” Chuck taught me that big boys ought to cry. Never was that more important than during some difficult days when the bottom was falling out of my life. I was flying so low that I was beginning to wonder if life was worth living. I knew I needed a dose of Chuck and Liz, so I made the trek from Rhode Island to New Harford. Chuck met me at the door and embraced me like my Dad never did. He let me wet his shirt with my tears. Before long, I felt his tears soaking my shirt. Chuck was crying with me and for me. Nobody ever cried with me or for me before that day. At that moment, I began to rise out of the ashes of despair. Chuck put flesh on and gave meaning to the words of the Psalmist, “Weeping may linger into the night, but joy comes with dawn.”
I could go on and on AND I WILL! Thanks Chuck for loving my kids. Thanks for loving my new family and for embracing Karin as warmly as you embraced me. Thank you for laughing with me over silly things, for intensely arguing politics, for teaching me what a real man-cave is and for showing me that it is possible to fall in love with tomato plants.
Charlie, your death severely tests me, but I get a little peace of mind in knowing that you are at rest in the arms of your Creator. Thanks for being you…for being authentically and honestly YOU. You gave so much more to life than you took from it and, beyond a shadow of a doubt; you proved that the best way for the Divine One to get into the world is through us. Charlie, I love you. I will miss you. There will never be another YOU in my life.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts