Charles had one main job that week and that was to clean the toilets and keep the bathrooms looking good. I first met him that Monday morning as he walked across the convention hall floor from one bathroom to the other.
All it took was a little eye contact and a simple hello. Yet, what saddens me to this day was watching Charles, whose job was to clean up after everyone all week, walk from one end of the convention floor to the other and not once did I ever see anyone seem to notice.
Charles was in his late thirties and looked like a thousand lives wrapped up into one life. I don’t know why he was doing what he was doing. But I got the picture that life hadn’t been easy and he was just trying to survive, make an honest living, and maybe work himself up the ladder.
He told me over the course of that week that he was working to move up from bathroom duty to security where he can wear the coveted yellow shirt. I wish you could hear him as he spoke with a sense of not only both pride that he had vision, but also of one on a mission to convince another of their worth.
I wish you could see the look in his eyes. He wanted it. (The sense of feeling valued and perhaps that he mattered, that is.)
I have never felt so humbled at being given the opportunity to believe in someone as I was given to believe in him that week. I wanted him to know so bad that he was believed in.
The highlight of my week was keeping my eyes out for him each day as he made his rounds. What I would learn later that week is that he was doing the same thing with me. My heart is beyond words just thinking about it.
We all need a little cheerleading, don’t we? We all need to cheerlead more often, but do we? I am so thankful that Charles didn’t walk on by. His cheerleading for me that week, I will never forget.
Thinking about Charles, I think about when it was I who literally was in charge of garbage at the Clark County Fairgrounds back in my early twenties. I remember that while most of my friends were graduating college, there I was, visionless, graduating from picking up garbage to overseeing a crew who picked up the garbage.
I always remembered picking up after people or bussing their tables. You felt unnoticed. Yet the irony was this, it was the garbage that was left behind that was absolutely not.. left unnoticed.
Not many people gave me much hope back then. And if they did, I never believed in myself enough to see that hope ever come to fruition. But for me and my garbage duty, I just did my thing. I was grateful for the job. I worked hard and appreciated the opportunity.
I guess that’s why I gravitated to Charles. I knew what it was like. To feel unnoticed.
As the week came to an end, it was hard to say goodbye. I was at that particular convention to represent a feature film. Before I left, all Charles wanted from me was for me, for whatever reason, to autograph a movie poster for him.
I told him, I am not in the movie. He told me that he knew that. He just wanted me to sign the poster.
So I did what I have never done before in my life, I autographed a movie poster for somebody.
Here’s what I wrote..
“Charles, you made my week. You made me a better man. I want you to know three things about yourself.. you are loved, you are valued, and you matter!” – Gunnar Simonsen
I haven’t been back to Columbus since then. I am not sure I will ever return there. But if I did, I would love more than anything to see Charles again. Of course… wearing a yellow shirt, that is.