Joe Charnitski’s Slump is Officially Over

Joe Charnitski’s Slump is Officially Over


♪ It was December 21, four days before Christmas. I was 15 years old, and
living through difficult times. Maybe every 15-year-old thinks they’re living
through difficult times. But I was so sure
that I named it. I branded it. I was living
through my “slump.” (laughter) Up to that point,
I got pretty good grades without trying
particularly hard. But at 15, letters
were being sent home from teachers to my parents warning about
a lack of effort on my part. I was on the high school
basketball team… technically. I spent so much time
on the bench those days, I didn’t bother
learning the plays. I didn’t even have a date
to the annual Christmas dance. And I felt low every day. Except that day. I woke up on December 21 with a renewed determination. My slump ends today. Why? I have no idea. (laughter) It was the last day of school
before Christmas break, I’m sure
I was excited about that. I don’t know what it was,
but I got dressed, went downstairs for a delicious
bowl of Fruity Pebbles, and off I went to live the first day of
the rest of my life. A couple of hours later, I’m in the
vice principal’s office. I’m not sure why I’ve been called there. I’m replaying the past
couple of weeks of my life. Did I insult a teacher? Did I get into it with
another student? And then I remember:
my slump is over. This is going to be good news. Like, maybe I won an award
or something. There could be a cash prize. Like, I’m getting excited. (laughter) After a few minutes,
the door to the office opens, and in comes Sister Catherine. She is the vice principal of my small Catholic
high school. And with her is Father Paul. Father Paul is the pastor
of my family church. And my family church has
no connection to my high school. There’s no reason
for Father Paul to be here. One of the
more serious reasons that I was feeling low
every day was that my mom had
just had delicate surgery to relieve a chronic pain
condition in her face. The surgeons had to go in
through the back of her head, and past her brain,
to address the issue. It was precarious
and scary surgery. And she was home now,
and recovering, but her recovery was
also delicate and precarious and scary for me. So when Father Paul
came into that room, I no longer thought
I won a cash prize. So Sister Catherine
comes over to my left, and Father Paul
kneels to my right, and he looks at me
and he says, “Joe, your mom and
your dad are okay. But your house is on fire.” And I’m like,
“Oh my gosh, is it?” And Sister Catherine says, “Joe, you’ve gone pale, do you want
a glass of water? What do you want,
what do you need, what do you want?” I said, “I want to go home.
Can I go home?” So Father Paul drove me home. When we arrived,
I remember seeing the news crews and the fire trucks and
the neighbors who had gathered. And the house
was still standing, so I thought, you know,
maybe it’s not so bad. And then I went inside,
and it was so bad. The dining room, where
we were supposed to have Christmas dinner
in a couple of days, well, that was destroyed. The front room, where the decorated Christmas
tree had been standing, and the wrapped presents
had been set, well, the fire
started in there, so you can imagine
what it looked like. The kitchen, where I’d just had that brightly colored bowl
of Fruity Pebbles, now looked like someone
had taken a black marker and scraped it
all over the place. My mom was at the next-door
neighbor’s, she was fine. A little shaken up, of course. I asked Father Paul if
the church was unlocked, he said it was. I walked the block up the street
to my family church. Inside, it was dark,
the lights were out. And I walked to the altar. This was not going to be
a pew conversation, this had to go
right to the altar. I didn’t shake my fist at God,
I didn’t scream or yell. I cried. And I said,
“I woke up knowing “this was the end of my slump, “and you burned my house down? “Like, what’s the message
you’re trying to send me here? “‘Don’t get your hopes up, kid’? “‘Things aren’t
going to get any better’? ‘It’s not your slump,
it’s your life.'” Now I feel the lowest
I have felt the whole time, but that’s because
I didn’t know. Back at school,
Sister Catherine made an announcement
over the intercom, letting everyone know
about the fire. And spontaneously,
every class and club and organization
took up donations, for me. I didn’t know the lead story
on the news that night would be about
the Charnitski fund. See, my grade school and
the town bank joined forces to give folks a place to help, to donate, for my family. My grade school principal
was on TV talking about
what a great kid I am, and what a great family I have. I didn’t know strangers
would track us down, offering food and money
and toiletries and gifts and decorated trees,
and anything they thought we might need to have
some kind of Christmas. Now, look, maybe
you’re not that impressed. Maybe you think this
is exactly what would happen in a small town a
few days before Christmas when tragedy strikes. But I had just been crying
in a dark church, thinking my life was never
going to get any better. This outpouring
of love and support, to me, was a big deal. It was a win. December 21 was
the final day of my slump. Thanks. (cheers and applause) ♪

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