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                                                        Carl's Garden

    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  drug activity.
     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 rement 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 until 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.
"That's wonderful!  What's the baby's  name?"

"Carl," he replied.


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