Listen to this as you read today.
I told my sister Carolyn this story and said, “I don’t know what the lesson is.”
After listening, Carolyn understood the lesson. It made so much sense when she explained it to me.
Weighing in at 1500 words, this post is an 8-to-12 minute read. While it’s among the most important pieces I’ve written, it has almost nothing to do with medical device marketing, so you die-hards can blow off this week’s Journey completely. It’s not what you signed up for.
Instead, read this Journey post (again?) about Content Shock. It’s the bedrock of my marketing efforts and holds the most emphatic medical device marketing message I’ll deliver this year.
I sing in a 70-man barbershop chorus. I think you knew that. We’re among the top 20 in the world.
Ironically, we were rehearsing “Tomorrow is Promised to No One” on Wednesday night when I read an alarming message on Facebook from “Charlie,” a lapsed 20-something chorus member I hardly know.
At the break I had Lee shut the live-stream recording so I could read the note aloud.
I immediately wrote back, “Okay, you gotta let me and a few guys visit you in person. Please. What is your address and phone? Don’t leave me hanging here…”
Mercifully he gave me his phone number. His studio was “trashed” so he agreed to meet at the only late-night bar in town.
The bar was an hour away.
And it had begun to snow.
God bless him, Mike came along. Within minutes of our arrival, Ni’ko was there too. (How’d he get there so fast?)
I started a tab and ordered appetizers and drinks for everyone. We sat and had the barkeep turn off the Olympics.
Charlie talked, sometimes hardly above a mumble, but the bar was completely – and I mean completely – empty. The town stayed home that night. The roads were treacherous and I even lost control of my car at one point, driving through a red light with my horn blaring because I couldn’t stop skidding.
Charlie told us he didn’t “typically look this way” – well groomed, nicely dressed – and told us his stories of abandonment, depression, derision, and hopelessness.
At which point Mike reached into his pocket. “When the chorus heard you were in distress, we took up a collection. They crowded around Joe and couldn’t give him the money fast enough.”
It was $576, just about a month’s rent for Charlie. “You may feel you’re not loved. But you are loved. We love you. The brotherhood loves you. That’s why we’re down here tonight,” Mike and Ni’ko assured him.
Charlie looked – I wouldn’t say shocked but appreciatively – and said, “I can’t take that. I was taught never to take money.” But we prevailed.
I said, “Look, Charlie. We drove all the way down here in the fucking snow, and if you kill yourself, this will have been a total waste of our time.”
I said, “You kinda owe me now. So I want you to promise me you’ll come to rehearsal next week. Come sing with your brothers.”
He promised he would.
Charlie mentioned a church choir and I asked if he still goes to church. “Not in a while but a few guys have asked me to go with them.”
“Like who? Specifically, what’s his name?”
“Okay, give me your phone. I’m going to text Wes right now and tell him you need some churching up and to pick you up on Sunday.”
It was a gambit. And it paid off.
I texted Wes. Then as Charlie talked more with Mike and Ni’ko, I read his private messages and wrote his sister, mother, and our common friends.
Was it appropriate? Would it bite me in the ass later? Didn’t know. Didn’t care.
It was getting late, now past midnight, the roads were hazardous, and Ni’ko and Mike had work in the morning.
As we stood to leave, I told Charlie we made phone calls on the way down and learned a local medical center would take a look and talk with him.
To my mild surprise, he said “sure.”
So Mike and I drove him to the hospital, listening to barbershop learning tracks and videos on the way down. Loudly.
We sang, and I could see him slip into the harmonies he loved so much. We marveled at the sounds of the Westminster Chorus and Ambassadors of Harmony. (These are so beautiful, I heartily encourage you to listen to them.)
Sophia, the in-taking nurse, was so so good at her job, asking all the right questions and getting Charlie to agree to an overnight stay for evaluation.
At one point Charlie almost chuckled. “The people who should be with me tonight, aren’t.” (I’ll come back to this.)
I asked Charlie for his apartment key and he gave it to me. “You say your studio is really trashed, so we’ll get a coupla guys to clean it up, maybe get some flowers, so you come back to a clean apartment.”
I was listed as Charlie’s emergency contact.
Mike and I left at 1:20 a.m.
I was in bed by 2:30.
An extraordinary brotherhood
In the week that followed I was called multiple times. By a social worker, two psychiatrists, a lawyer representing the hospital, brothers who cleaned Charlie’s apartment, and others who wanted to make hospital visits.
There are too many stories to tell but to give you a sense:
- Charlie was remanded to stay for three business days. I thought “business days?” What does “business” have to do with anything? But it’s the law. As it happens, the number of days proved arbitrary because his care team recommended he extend his stay.
- Mike, Sean, Ken, Todd, Ira, and probably others tackled the apartment. It took FIVE days! Five days for a studio apartment! Curdled milk, month-old rice encrusted in a pan, dishes three stories high.
- Mike and Ken, shown here, did his laundry. They cleaned his carpet.
- They found a rifle and bullets in the apartment. When, at intake, Charlie told Sophia he had no access to firearms, I completely believed him. A social worker told me when she asked the same question the following day, he said, “I don’t want to tell you because you might take it away from me.” (The boys confiscated it for now.)
- Chris from Charlie’s second barbershop chorus, Voices Incorporated, started a GoFundMe page for Charlie, raising $906 from 18 contributors on day one. You’re welcome to help this young man if you’re so inclined.
- On Saturday after rehearsal, eight men drove down to the hospital and, in what is a rare exception, the nurses allowed all eight to visit at once. They sang for the floor of patients.
- They got rid of his mattress and brought in a new bed. Jeff and Dan offered a truck to dispose of some large furniture pieces.
- Dr. Ira offered to be his healthcare proxy to discuss treatment plans with the doctors.
- Sean is planning a “welcome home party” for Charlie’s eventual return. “We should be there, get some pizza and beer and welcome him back.” (What a beautiful man.)
And these are just the stories I know.
Carolyn and “the lesson”
I told Carolyn my story and said, “I don’t know what to do with this. This certainly doesn’t belong in The Journey.”
“If I talk about what I did, it may come across as “humble bragging.” As in, “look how great Joe Hage is.”
“And if I say the lesson is, ‘If you see something, say something,’ it’s so obvious as to be pedantic. So I have this life experience and no real reason to tell it.”
But she saw the lesson. And if you squint very very tightly, it even pertains to you and your business.
It’s a stretch, but hear me out.
You never know who
As I shared, I hardly know Charlie. I knew him from chorus. I remember none of our conversations. I don’t even remember what part he sings.
I hadn’t seen Charlie in a year. Sorry to say, I never thought about him. Really, he was just “someone I used to sing with.”
Yet our mutual friend Bill wrote me privately the next day, “I am convinced that if you had not cared and taken concrete steps Charlie would not be here today.”
Is that true? We’ll never know.
But we can say help – life-saving help – came to Charlie in a most unlikely way. From some guy 23 years his senior with nothing discernible in common besides song.
So, a lesson, if there is one, is for you to have the widest network reasonable. And if you need help, desperate or otherwise, ask for it.
Because you never know who might be there for you.
Thank you for joining me on The Journey.
If you need help, business help, mental help, financial assistance, or comfort, don’t suffer alone. Ask for help, even if it’s from some guy whose blog post you read today (email [email protected]). You never know.
P.S. Do you know someone who would benefit from this important message? Then send them here, with love.