People have different reactions when someone does something to offend or hurt them. Some folks react in anger, and sometimes even in violence, while others may seek to avoid conflict. We’ve all thought about what we would do if facing a physical threat from unreasonable people. Some of us dream of “taking out the trash,” as we see in action movies where one person beats up 20 people in five minutes. However, real-life doesn’t work that way, and sometimes the most powerful weapon a person could have is something that you can’t make stronger by working out in the gym. This was the case for a WWII veteran in this fictional story who ran into some trouble with a gang of young punks.
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.”