IN MY EXPERIENCE - The man lived Christmas every day

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OK, Charlie, this one is for you my dear friend. Wherever you are.

It has been many years from those wonderful days in Sacramento when I, as a mid-life seeker, found a friend in such an unlikely teacher/mentor/friend as you. And you would have a good, loud laugh at that thought, too, Chas.

What you thought was funny in some convoluted way made terrible sense to me. And also to my then-teenage daughter, who was also trying to find her life by being against everything - and her friend who joined her in that thinking, as only two teenage girls could do in the mid-'80s in "Sacratomato." Reading his postcards was accompanied with great guffas and wonderment at such wisdom formed from clippings of sage-like sayings that struck at something deeper in all of us who read them.

"Oh," we would say with delight, "another post-card from Charlie -Charlie Christmas."

Every day was Christmas to my friend Charlie. To all the people on the bus or light rail and the drivers it was "Merry Christmas!" Because, you see, for Charlie it was not simply ABOUT Christmas, each day WAS Christmas.

Let me back up a bit and fill you in on the rest of the story, or really the beginning of it. Rumor had it that Chas was an English major who graduated Notre Dame University. He was also one of the first marathon runners to run up to the top of Pike's Peak - maybe he was the first, I don't know. Charlie also was an alcoholic, or at least a heavy drinker on the day that he drove into a tree at a hundred miles an hour.

Of course, Charlie lived. But it was how he lived after the crash that mattered so much.

He told me that while he was in a rather lengthy coma he saw Jesus Christ, Santa Claus and Werner Erhard. So, of course, when he was in his right mind - including what was left of his left brain that now behaved as a 12- to 14-year-old's in a mid-30s male body - he told me wanted his name changed to reflect who he now thought he was.

Again, word had it that he arranged to have a hearing before a court to request a name change to - you guessed it - Charlie Christmas because he now saw and felt that everyday was, indeed, Christmas.

People got it, too. When Chas would leave behind a bag or something on one of his many outings, it would magically show up in the hands of the bus driver or somebody saying, "Did you lose this Charlie?"

When I met Charlie Christmas in the mid-eighties he couldn't love people enough: the local constabulary, bus and taxi drivers, people on the street, waiters, cooks in restaurants - wherever he found people. There was no doubt in anyone's mind who Mr. Love was, and I can still hear his laugh. A simple straightforward laugh freighted with a load of love from his heart to everybody else's.

Some of our best times were to load up all the bags of cans Chas had collected put them into my 1976 Dodge van and take them down to the metal dump and collect his per-pound fees. On occasion we would then go to one of the finest gustatorial, gastronomical eateries in all of Sacramento, Lil Joe's at 1710 Del Paso Blvd., a true blast from the past at that time 30 years ago.

Lil Joe's was stuck firmly in the mid-'50s, steaks and everything else was first rate but half the price or less. It was open all the time and Charlie loved going there. He experienced everything like a little kid, brand new each time but in a wonderfully familiar way.

Lil Joe's was across the street from some state or city medical facility and was the restaurant of choice for folks visiting the clinics. Once in while we would have to wait until someone who was having grand mal seizure was finished and OK, then the talk and laughter would rise up again.

Charlie never minded the people who were just being their wounded selves. I am sure he would just self-reference his hemiplegic body and feel so much at home. I can't help it when I think of Charlie - one among many others - who came into my seeker's existence and allowed me to feel what "quality of life" could really be about.

This all happened time-wise years after I got a couple of master's degees, which included a four-year graduate theological degree, a doctorate and continuous practice as a psychotherapist. I was feeling lost and empty.

I think back now on what I can only call a "hero's journey" - as described by both mythologist Joseph Campbell and mythopoetic author Robert Bly - that I undertook, although I certainly did not feel like a hero. But every man has to make this inward journey to himself in one form or another, and to do that successfully a heroic venture is needed. So thank you Charlie Christmas, wherever you are, for being one of my "Strange Companions" on this strange and wonderful journey.

I do so miss you.

Dr. John {Christmas, my better self}

M. John Roberts, Ph.D, is a semi-retired psychotherapist in Walla Walla who holds a doctorate in education and counseling from Kent State University, Ohio. Got a question or life experience you'd like him to write about? Email him personally at mjroberts@q.com.

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