Proverbs 15:1a “A soft answer turns away wrath…”
Prov 14:29 He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.
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
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 W.W.II. Watching him, we worried
that although he had survived W.W.II, 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, Carl 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 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. 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.
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”