Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wright Words: Second Chances and Recovering Charles

Wright Words: Second Chances and Recovering Charles

One year ago I was locked in a hotel room in my hometown of Woodstock, Virginia writing round-the-clock to finish my most recent novel, Recovering Charles.

The book is set in New Orleans just as Hurricane Katrina hits. It’s about a man whose estranged father, who had been living in New Orleans, goes missing after the storm. Luke hadn’t spoken to his father for nearly two years. He and Charles quit speaking to each other after Charles made one too many bad decisions.

Luke finally decides to make his way to the beaten city and there tries to find his father or, at least, find out what happened to him. Not only does Luke not know where his father is, he doesn’t know for sure what his father has become.

Luke is searching for the man named Charles who always needed money or some other favor, but he might also be looking for the loving father that left him years before. Charles stopped being that father when he gave in to his demons.

Luke gave up on Charles and Charles stopped bothering Luke.

All but the very best of us hold grudges. We righteously banish ex-spouses, estranged family members, friends who betray us, and other unpleasant people to an exile enforced by averted eyes and caller-ID. As long as we tell ourselves that – one day – we will make things right, we can justify our behavior as punishment for what we have suffered.

In the book, the possibility that Charles might be dead shakes Luke’s self-righteousness. Without an “I’m sorry, son” there could be no “I forgive you, Dad.” Luke begins to believe that Charles was looking for a second chance. Luke’s search for his father takes on new urgency as he realizes that he might just want to give him one.

So, who deserves a second chance? Where is the threshold of forgiveness? When one of my kids does something wrong, I’m quick to explain that they can make it right and get a clean slate. Children surely deserve second chances as they learn about consequences.

What about a cheating spouse? An abusive father? A vindictive lawyer? The drunk driver who kills a loved one? Do any of them deserve a second chance?

I know someone on the receiving end of each of those situations. And in each case, they forgave. None of the offenses could be undone but the bitterness and hatred dissolved once the offended decided to offer a second chance.

I also know people who proudly lug around grudges collected over a lifetime. When they let one go, it is often just to make room for another. They are slow to give out second chances because they know it means they have to give up one of their precious grudges.

When I started writing Recovering Charles, I didn’t know exactly how it would end. But Luke led me through the story and dictated its conclusion.

I learned a lot about myself as “what does he do next” began to reflect “what would I do”.

I’m still not sure that Luke and I are all that similar but I do know that I’ve learned to believe in second chances. I plan to give as many as I can.

I sure hope to get a few, too.


  1. I finished reading Recovering Charles, this morning. It has left me thinking about my life & approach to it. It's so easy to put ourselves on the "higher road" when we are making all the "right" choices while people around us aren't. But it leaves us - me - looking down on them instead of reaching out to them & giving them the support they need. My eyes are opening & my heart is softening. There is still good left in people & lessons to be learned from them, even when they have messed up. Thank you for reminding me of that in your touching story about Luke & Charlie.

  2. If we hope to be forgiven, we need to forgive...if we hope to be given a second chance, we need to give others that chance when they need it. Easy? No, but a huge test of our character. Sooner or later everything in life comes home to us.

  3. I gave Recovering Charles to my Mom with the hopes that she would get the message of forgivness as she works out years of issues with my Dad. She couldn't finish it because it was too close to the surface for her and gave it back to me. However, she is still working on things and every day seems to get better for her and my Dad. I hope one day that they can fully mend the fences that divide them.