Carl was a quiet man. He didn't talk much.
He would always greet you with a big smile and a firm
handshake. Even after living in our neighborhood
for over 50 years, no one could really say they knew
him very well. Before his retirement, he took the bus
to work each morning. The lone sight of him walking
down the street often worried us. He had a slight limp
from a bullet wound received in WWII. Watching him,
we worried that although he had survived WWII, he may not make it through our changing uptown neighborhood
with its ever-increasing random violence, gangs, and
When he saw the flyer at our local church
asking for volunteers for caring for the gardens behind the minister's residence, he responded in his
characteristically un-assuming manner. Without fanfare,
he just signed up.
He was well into his 87th year when the very thing we
had always feared finally happened.
He was just finishing his watering for the day when
three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked,
"Would you like a drink from the hose?" The tallest
and toughest-looking of the three said, "Yeah, sure",
with a malevolent little smile. As Carl offered the
hose to him, the other two grabbed Carl's arm, throwing
him down. As the hose snaked crazily over the ground,
dousing everything in its way, Carl's assailants stole
his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled.
Carl tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown
down on his bad leg. He lay there trying to gather himself as the minister came running to help him. Although the minister had witnessed the attack from his window, he couldn't get there fast enough to
stop it. "Carl, are you okay? Are you hurt?" the minister kept asking as he helped Carl to
his feet. Carl just passed a hand over his brow and
sighed, shaking his head. "Just some punk kids. I hope they'll wise-up someday." His wet clothes clung
to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose.
He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water.
Confused and a little concerned, the minister asked,
"Carl, what are you doing?" "I've got to finish my watering. It's been very dry lately", came the calm
reply. Satisfying himself that Carl really was all right, the minister could only marvel.
Carl was a man from a different time and place. A few
weeks later the three returned. Just as before their
threat was unchallenged. Carl again offered them a drink from his hose. This time they didn't rob him.
They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him
head to foot in the icy water. When they had finished
their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the
street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one
another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just
done. Carl just watched them. Then he turned toward
the warmth giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on
with his watering.
The summer was quickly fading into fall. Carl was
doing some tilling when he was startled by the sudden
approach of someone behind him. He stumbled and
fell into some evergreen branches. As he struggled to
regain his footing, he turned to see the tall leader
of his summer tormenters reaching down for him.
He braced himself for the expected attack. "Don't worry old man, I'm not gonna hurt you this time." The young man spoke softly, still offering the
tattooed and scarred hand to Carl. As he helped Carl
get up, the man pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket
and handed it to Carl. "What's this?"
Carl asked. "It's your stuff," the man explained.
"It's your stuff back. Even the money in your wallet."
"I don't understand," Carl said. "Why would you help
me now?" The man shifted his feet, seeming embarrassed
and ill at ease. "I learned something from you", he
said. "I ran with that gang and hurt people like you.
We picked you because you were old and we knew we
could do it. But every time we came and did something
to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink. You didn't hate us for hating you. You kept showing love against our hate."
He stopped for a moment. "I couldn't sleep after we
stole your stuff, so here it is back."
He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what
more there was to say. "That bag's my way of saying
thanks for straightening me out, I guess." And with
that, he walked off down the street. Carl looked down
at the sack in his hands and gingerly opened it. He
took out his retirement watch and put it back on his
wrist. Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding
photo. He gazed for a moment at the young bride
that still smiled back at him from all those years ago.
He died one cold day after Christmas that winter. Many people attended his funeral in spite of the weather. In particular the minister noticed a tall
young man that he didn't know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the church. The minister spoke of
Carl's garden as a lesson in life. In a voice made thick with unshed tears, he said, "Do your best and
make your garden as beautiful as you can. We will never forget Carl and his garden."
The following spring another flyer went up. It read:
"Person needed to care for Carl's garden."
The flyer went unnoticed by the busy parishioners
one day when a knock was heard at the minister's office door.
Opening the door, the minister saw a pair of scarred
and tattooed hands holding the flyer. "I believe this
is my job, if you'll have me," the young man said.
The minister recognized him as the same young man who
had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Carl. He knew that Carl's kindness had turned this man's life around. As the minister handed him the keys to
the garden shed, he said, "Yes, go take care of
Carl's garden and honor him."
The man went to work and, over the next several years,
he tended the flowers and vegetables just as Carl had
done. In that time, he went to college, got married,
and became a prominent member of the community. But he
never forgot his promise to Carl's memory and kept the
garden as beautiful as he thought Carl would have kept it.
One day he approached the new minister and told him
that he couldn't care for the garden any longer. He
explained with a shy and happy smile, "My wife just
had a baby boy last night, and she's bringing him
home on Saturday." "Well, congratulations!" said the
minister, as he was handed the garden shed keys.