The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man

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 unassuming 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 tormentors 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.
During 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.