When things go south, as they often do, it’s easy to feel like a stumped, stooped street slug.
But South and Hope belong together.
Just ask stoop child Charles.
I write this as an overgrown wheat child, born among fields and sticks. What I know of esoteric matters like cities and stoops, I know only by virtue of being second-generation Brooklyn.
I have had much to learn. I have learned most of it from cats.
I have learned a great deal from Charles.
A dimpled clementine rolling down Pennsylvania streets, Charles knew every stoop. When you are a hungry exile with just enough cosmic absurdity to believe in yourself, you become a street scholar. You master survival. You muster self-reliance.
If you are Charles, you are an orange revelation with gaping hopes. You are as gritty as your city’s hockey mascot and twice as handsome, wearing your bedragglement like a mink stole.
You are the spirit of every undaunted child who ever saw a stick and a stoop and said, “let’s play ball.”
You have no empirical reason to forecast hope, only the empire of your sunny heart.
And when kindness defies all logic and arrives, you can smell it like a fresh cheese steak.
Hope happened upon Charles, the joyous jawn he’d always expected. Radiant rescuers arrived, leaving one stoop child standing tall and nodding. “Of course! Mercy! I’ve been expecting you!”
But then, everything went south.
It was a simple test: just a formality, really. It should have just been a spin through the turnstile, the slide over home plate. But the dot was as red as Charles’ fiery fur.
Philly’s most positive thinker was FeLV+.
Feline leukemia virus stops the presses. Feline leukemia virus stops breakfast. Feline leukemia virus sends everyone scattering home like slugs, right in the middle of the stoopball world series.
Feline leukemia did not frighten Charles.
Somehow, the gaping hole where fear “should” live was exactly the shape of hope.
Charles’s selfless rescuers had heard of a Place peculiar enough to embrace the oddballs. News had reached them of a sleepy street Corner in rural Ringoes, New Jersey.
There was a hub of hope, a home run precisely for stoop children whose stories had gone south.
Quinn’s Corner was about to get a new starting pitcher.
We’ve been catching our breath ever since, giddy with the gibberish of the smitten.
Charles is not frightened of our gibberish.
Charles is not particularly surprised to be here, either. “Of course! Mercy! I’ve been expecting this.” An orange peel curled in a perpetual smile, Charles has always expected life to be this juicy.
That’s what happens when you’re stationed on the corner of South Hope Street.
We’ll never know quite why some cats and children are Charlesian. Full of stubborn stars, they have nevertheless known night. There were no falling cheese steaks, no cheddar pretzels twisting through Charles’s Philadelphia. His ear ached with a polyp the size of the Liberty Bell, and he arrived stinking spectacularly of infection.
Even as he packs on the pounds and the proof that hope is a truth-teller, he lives with a viral bobcat in his bone marrow.
Things can go south at any time. This is true from the Ringoes cornfields to the Kensington asphalt.
We are all stumped children.
None of us can say what Charles’s future holds.
All of us can hold Charles.
But you can’t pick up Charles without picking up his hope. Look in his little lion eyes, and you’re transported to the stoop of a shining city. All around, people are loving the least-likely, the cats crowned with challenges and the people peppered with problems.
All around, the streets are paved with patience, and the worst news means the best mercies are rounding the bases.
Hope hobbles the horribles, and every time we stoop to love, we rise to twice our previous height.
It may sound like there’s nothing our Charles cannot do, and that’s close to the truth. But there’s one exception, and our Philly special wears it like a medal.
Charles simply cannot stop loving this life.
Charles also cannot give up on our loving this life.
I don’t want to disappoint the dazzle-cat whose very breath is brotherly love, do you?
From north to south, city to backwater, we live in a world where cats comfort their caretakers. We live in a world where people exult publicly in “the fantastically weird world of photosynthetic sea slugs,” and both cheese and steaks exist.
We live in a world where you have permission to invent your game and your hope and your life from whatever raw materials are available.
Charles runs the bases with raw, reckless, rebellious hope.
Let’s meet him with medals at the stoop.