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Dreams, Work, and Faith

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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10 Comments
Magic Dream Big message on sunny road

We all have life stories, how we got from where we were to where we are, unexpected blessings, things overcome, lucky breaks – a few worth retelling. My first break was at 12. I got paid 40 dollars a week as part of a camp “outdoor crew,” my first obligation each morning was to clean and fix 25 toilets.

You may not count that a lucky break, but it was. It was the beginning of this kid’s American Dream. Taught plumbing, carpentry, and engines by a WWII veteran, a former gunner on a TBF Avenger, I was lucky.

Week by week, I put that money away, for five summers – reminded by my schoolteacher mother that working hard, learning what you could, and saving for “someday” was a good plan.

My “someday” – my dream – was to buy a small snowmobile. By the fifth summer, approaching age 17, I was almost there.

One day, my mother casually noted I could buy a snowmobile, something Maine kids want like others do a motorcycle, or I could apply the saved money to college.

I knew which one she thought was the right choice. I forgot to mention my first blessing, a mother up each morning at 0500, getting four kids off to school, more or less raising us alone, while also teaching.

I gave up the snowmobile, and focused instead – as she suggested – on my grades. My father never finished college, but she had an MA. With no money, she believed a good education, like hard work, mattered. She told us if we worked hard, good things would happen. We believed her.

When application season came, I tried the University of Maine – and a new dream. With no ties to Dartmouth College, but having seen and loved it, I applied.

Still cleaning and fixing 25 toilets every morning at the camp, which catered to wealthy kids, I will never forget dropping my applications in the outgoing mail one morning… and getting a strange look.

Somehow it was entertaining, endearing, or maybe above my station that “the toilet boy” was applying to an Ivy League School, from a little Maine town. I did it, anyway.

My mother was crystal clear: You have to dream, forget what others think, work for the dream, trust, and adjust but keep at it – and Dartmouth was my worthy dream.

The day an envelope arrived from Dartmouth, I nearly stopped breathing. It was not thin; it was thick. Inside was my dream – and a thief who took that dream away at the same time. By lightning strike or God’s Grace, I had been admitted – but with no financial aid, the dream was a “no-go.”

Again, my mother was clear: We do not give up on dreams when challenged, when they seem out of reach, or when life urges us to drop them – if we believe in them. She gave me the family car, so I could explain why I might be worth the investment.

On return to Maine, no answer. I had given the dream my best shot, a 13-point brief explaining why I was worth their investment, a rural Maine kid. My mother knew that, was proud of me, and calm.

Nothing changed. Then a call came. This is where dreams begin to cascade. Dartmouth had decided to give me a scholarship, loans, and work-study. They understood the dream, committed, and resolved to make it work. My mother smiled.

Many years have passed since that day, but not one has diminished it – nor the power of lifting your eyes, daring to dream, saying a prayer, and working for it.

I ended my Dartmouth time on a high note, gave the Address to the College, and went on to Oxford University and Columbia Law School – both on scholarship and loans.

In time, I clerked for a US Court of Appeals, found my way to two white houses, litigated, served as Colin Powell’s Assistant Secretary, and have worked to solve problems and help others shape and realize their dreams. My mother has seen it all.  

Faith, dreams, and hard work count to add up. My mother said it would be that way. Hoping to clerk, I applied to 300 judges, but 299 rejections, one judge, a Reagan appointee, former US Marine, and later lifetime friend … accepted me.

Lesson? Never say never. Never say never when you have something that crystalizes into a dream and is worth working for, rising, falling, and rising to make happen.

Most importantly – a thought that animates me every day – out there somewhere is a young person who confronts long odds yet dares to hope, pray, work, and commit to his or her dream. If we can stay on the lookout for them, good things will happen. As my mother reminds me even now, when you least expect it, they do.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Donna
Donna
1 month ago

What a lovely life story, Mr. Charles. You were blessed with a wonderful mother who instilled such excellent values in you, and you in turn continually bless us with your gift of writing that inspires all of us to dream.

Gary
Gary
1 month ago

Great story. If parents teach their children how to work along life’s way ,that everything will not be free,half the battle to be productive citizen of society will be won. Also to share with them to trust the Lord each days provision. If they need a little help along life’s journey parents can help. Getting dirty hands never hurt anyone

SusanW
SusanW
1 month ago

Very inspirational article, Robert! We need more…thank you! First off, how blessed you were to have such a “tough love” and truly inspiring “teacher/mom”! As an ,educator, I wish all my students had similar role models. As I know your mother did, I also made it my life’s work to motivate and inspire my students to never give up in life and to never stop dreaming. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” My job was to give them the tools to do that in life. Be a dreamer and stay curious and passionate.But, where I do differ a bit is, I don’t think God limited our dreams to just our youth, but to all of us regardless of age. Age is irrelevant. I’m 70ish, but my heart is 35ish. I’ve decided growing up is optional! Stay dreamers and never stop being curious of what could be. As Abraham Lincoln so beautifully once said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Once a gypsy, always a gypsy! Onward we go!,

Monica
Monica
1 month ago

Lovely story. Tenacity and Truth!

anna hubert
anna hubert
1 month ago

This was one smart woman that knew that a plan is a key to a success not a dream

Debbie Boggs
Debbie Boggs
1 month ago

What a wonderful story! And a great reminder to any of us who have a dream…never give up.

Max
Max
1 month ago

RBC, very inspirational!!

Donna
Donna
1 month ago

AMAC the troll has gone too far. He, she or it is now being blasphemous.

God
God
1 month ago

That was a very inspiring story my child. Speaking of Colin Powell I have bad news. You too will die from Covid complications lol

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