If you have heard nothing about Charity Tilemann Dick and her remarkable story, stop right now and listen to the song below. I promise it is worth it.
Charity truly has an angelic voice and a powerful spirit when she sings. But her story is unlike that of any other opera singer I know of. When Charity was a student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, she was diagnosed with Pulminary Hypertension, a rare lung disorder. A few years later, her lungs began to fail and she underwent a double-lung transplant which she miraculously survived. She began the grueling process of relearning to sing. But after a few years her body began to reject her new lungs. She then underwent a second double-lung transplant. She once again learned to sing and the song you listened to was recorded with her third set of lungs.
With that riveting summary I could simply recommend that you check out Charity’s incredible memoir “The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts.” I could also recommend that you look at all of the incredible press coverage the book has received. But I want to explain why this book was one of the most poignant and life affirming books I have ever read.
Or I should say listened to. Although I am partial to reading, in this case the audiobook may be the superior format for the book. It is read by the author which helps to convey the emotion far more powerfully. But more importantly, each chapter of the audiobook is accompanied by Charity’s incredible singing. For each chapter, Charity has selected music that fits with the story and hearing her sing conveys the miraculous nature of the story in an indelible fashion. The audiobook is worth the price of admission simply for a stunning version of Amazing Grace, inspired by a moment when Charity sang it to a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic while awaiting her second lung transplant. It will bring you to tears.
One might expect the recipient of two lung transplants to be depressed or pessimistic. But Charity’s deep faith and incredible optimism are what will stick with you long after the book finishes. Throughout her long ordeal, Charity never relinquishes her deeply rooted testimony that there is a loving Heavenly Father and that he is in charge of her life’s direction. For a book written for a secular and primarily non-LDS audience, this book is also remarkably full of Charity’s testimony of the restored gospel. Throughout the book, Charity intersperses moving prayers to her heavenly father, and her belief in the eternal nature of her family. She does this in a wholly natural fashion. She simply cannot help but share the faith that brought her through her illness. One moment stands out in particular. At one of her darkest moments when she had to decide whether to press forward with her second lung transplant, Charity received a Priesthood blessing promising her that she would live. Her willingness to rely on the promises of the Lord were inspiring and deeply faith promoting
For a book on such a serious subject, The Encore is also remarkably funny. I laughed almost constantly. For instance, at point when first in the hospital, Charity describes the guilty pleasure of sneaking a burrito after dieting and avoiding salty foods for months. And you will never look at Diet Sprite the same way after hearing how she longed for it after her first transplant. And her various travails as she prepared for her wedding hit close to home and was hilarious. You will find yourself laughing far more than you expected.
The book is also a remarkable love story. Charity falls in love with Yonatan Doron, even though the two at first glance have little in common. She at first resists his advances because she is certain she is dying and does not want to burden him. But he stands by her side unrelentingly. Their love is moving and inspiring. I especially loved how the book handled their mixed faith relationship. Charity is LDS (though she comes from a very well known Jewish-American line, as her grandfather was Holocaust survivor and Congressman Tom Lantos), and Yonatan is Jewish. Cultural differences and differences of understanding nearly tear them apart. Yet, despite their various trials, the two overcome their differences and share an eternal and enduring bond.
Finally, this book is not a whitewashed story. Charity describes in vivid detail her own imperfections, doubts, and struggles as well as those around her. For instance, her mother heroically stood by her side for years, but Charity also describes how difficult that process was for her mother and how they vociferously disagreed about the best course of care. Another portion of the book at struck me involved Charity’s relationship with one of her first doctors. That doctor offered her very negative advice and urged her never to sing again. At first, Charity had bitter feelings towards that doctor. In her widely watched TEDMED talk after her first transplant, Charity criticized that doctor’s attitude. But after that doctor soon suffered from her own lung defect. Charity came to know her and realized that the doctor was acting our of a loving over protectiveness rather than pessimism. And in turn Charity gave that doctor hope. That story exemplifies Charity’s growth throughout her story, as she comes to deeply appreciate the love and efforts of others in her care even though they do so imperfectly.
On a personal note, I met Charity in the summer of 2015 as I was living in the Washington D.C. because some of her siblings were in my ward. Even though it was brief, our encounter left a deep impression on me. You cannot interact with Charity for any length of time without coming away edified and strengthened. She is one of those rare individuals with the faith to be healed, and not to be healed. But more importantly, she understands that how we live is much more important than whether we survive. This book will similarly edify you and strengthen your belief in the beauty of life and in God’s power to work miracles in your life. I cannot recommend this book any more highly.