Charlie White wanted to live to be a hundred years old; a while back he was even reading a book about how to do that! And there were many of us who thought that Charlie would outlive us all. He did pretty well; he got to ninety-three. But it wasn’t Charlie’s actual age that was the important thing. He was an icon in our community; a presence; a representative from another time and place; an emissary, if you will, from God’s time and God’s realm.
And I don’t think any of us can really quite imagine what life in Long Hill Township will be like without Charlie. We will never be able to go to Shop-Rite without expecting to see him pushing his cart, or swimming at Stirling Lake on a summer’s day, or waiting for the train at Millington Station, or riding his bike on Long Hill Road, or sitting in his spot here in church, or crossing the intersection out here in front – onlookers being on pins and needles for his safety. So it is good for us to be here together to grieve his death and our loss, and to celebrate his life – and there is so much to celebrate!
Charlie and his parents moved to town in 1927 when he was two years old, living first on Central Avenue in Stirling, and then moving to Old Forge Road in Millington. Although the term was probably not used when he was a child, Charlie had Autism Spectrum Disorder, making his communications skills difficult. He went to local public schools and then spent a few years at a residential school, eventually returning home to live with his parents. Charlie was not able to drive, but he loved to read math books, especially calculus and trigonometry. He rode his bicycle everywhere, delivering Grit, a weekly newspaper for small-town America.
That paper route was emblematic of who Charlie was. He had grit, tenacity, even a stubbornness that stood him in very good stead as he learned to advocate for himself in the world, no doubt taught by his parents to do what he could do to his utmost.
Another way that Grit was an extension of Charlie’s life is summed up in the words of the paper’s editors to its employees in the late nineteenth century:
“Always keep Grit from being pessimistic. Avoid printing those things which distort the minds of readers or make them feel at odds with the world. Avoid showing the wrong side of things, or making people feel discontented. Do nothing that will encourage fear, worry, or temptation... Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. Put happy thoughts, cheer, and contentment into their hearts...”
That is our Charlie; that is the way he lived and the way he treated others, with loving-kindness, gentleness, gratitude, joy, and faithfulness.
Charlie was a man of deep faith, very rarely missing Sunday worship until two weeks ago. Charlie was baptized here as an adult in 1969 by the Rev. David St. George; he was prepared for confirmation by the Rev. Al Salt and confirmed in 1977 by Bishop George Rath who had known Charlie since he was sixteen; both Al and the Rev. Richard Wrede served as his guardians after the death of his father. And now we are here today to bury Charlie’s earthly remains and commend him to God’s loving care and presence.
One of Charlie’s aides in these last months, Ronnie, told me that as recently as a month ago, Charlie was still getting down on his knees by the side of his bed every night to say his prayers. His faith in God and his faithfulness were the foundation of his life and an example to us all.
Of course, Charlie was not able to live his life alone. That African proverb about “It takes a village to raise a child” is absolutely true for Charlie. It took Long Hill Township and All Saints’ Church to support him in living as independently as possible. At different times, and in differing capacities, so many people played an important role in Charlie’s life, and on behalf of his parents Jessie and Harold I thank you for that. Their trust in the goodness of this community must have given them the confidence to have Charlie live at home, and not in an institution.
But in these last dozen or so years the people who have lovingly, generously taken on the ministry of Charlie’s care have been the Golden family – specifically Ann and Terence. I know that they were glad to do it, but I also know it was a great deal of work, some heartache, and responsibility. We all cannot thank you enough. And in Jesus’ words of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew’s Gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
Charlie has given All Saints’ and Long Hill Township a great gift. It is the gift of knowing that we are all bound together in a community of God’s love and compassion, that we can and do care for one another, and that the ones who are cared for have as much to give as those who are doing the caring, if we will receive it. This a real-life example of the kingdom of God that Jesus taught and incarnated lived out on earth as it is in heaven.
I said at the beginning that Charlie was an emissary from God’s realm, from that reality we call heaven which is not somewhere out beyond the planets but is right here with us, alongside us, unseen, but not unfelt or unknowable. If we look closely, if we listen attentively, we can see and hear God’s presence breaking through into our ordinary, day-to-day lives; an awareness of blessing, and goodness, and peace.
That’s what Charlie was so good at. He paid attention, he listened, he saw you, he knew you – in later years he might call you by your father’s name, instead of your own, but he knew you; you had a place in his world. He was a reflection of the God in whom he trusted who sees, and hears, and knows, and loves us – each one of us, deeply and tenderly, and calls us all by name.
So take this gift that God has given you through Charlie – the gift of loving-kindness, the gift of gladness and singleness of heart, the gift of courteous generosity, and the joy and wonder in all God’s works and put it into practice – every day if you can – with one another and with all those who cross your path. As we do this, we will continue to be the people and the community that Charlie knew us to be, and that God calls us to be.
It has been an honor and a privilege to know you, Charlie White; and we are all better people for it.
And so for all that has been, for all that is, and for all that is yet to be, we say: thanks be to God. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Charles A. White Funeral
June 14, 2018