Over the years that Carl was on campus, and even after he moved, his mother visited him regularly and taught him to be independent- for example, showing him how to use the train to visit her in Abington. She raised him to be gracious and kind, well-dressed and well-mannered. While some parents of his generation fretted, Carl’s mother planned and expected. After Carl’ mother passed, I then had an opportunity to begin to truly see how amazing he was..
Carl knew how to network. He knew people at every store he shopped at in town, and he always knew how to make people feel special. When Carl would eat out, he would often entertain everyone by playing music on his harmonica. When Carl had a fall, he was briefly put into a skilled nursing facility. He couldn’t wait to get out and go back to playing for the “less fortunate”, people who could not go home like he did.
Carl and I shared a bad habit: taking off our shoes whenever we could. Carl would even take his shoes off on the altar at church. You couldn’t see him do it, but you could hear the noise of the Velcro closure, which also caught the attention of the choir director.
As with every friend or family member, he could “work your last nerve” After we moved a few miles away, I would call often just to check in . The same conversation would happen each time, going on for years in this manner.
M: Hello Carl.. do you need anything at the store?
C: Yes…some of that Italian sausage you got me.
M: Carl I did not buy you Italian sausage.
C: Sure you did I just finished eating it.
M: OK..anything else…?
C: Yes, Angel Food Cake, Slim Jims and potato chips.
A few minutes later Carl calls me back.
C: I need bread.
M: Hi, Carl, here’s your stuff.
C:..Thank you! Where’s the milk?
I never went to the market so many times in my life! The items changed from conversation to conversation, but the sequence remained the same. I would also call about clothes and such. The clothing conversation or any other would carry on much like the conversation about the groceries.
M: I am going to the mall, do you need anything?
C:…I need socks..
M: Oh..dark or white?
M:Week later…I walk in with the socks
C: ….Thank you..Next time you go to the store..I need undershirts, the ones without the sleeves.
M:..Carl they sell them at the same store as the socks…
C: Oh that’s alright..
It took me forever to realize this was all about shopping and his many connections. Before his health declined, I think he shopped every day for one item at a time. Shopping was a social outing for him.
As he had more trouble managing housekeeping, we helped him hire someone. He asked for a personal emergency response system and a modified bath tub. He used all the help he received wisely.
There was never a bad time to visit Carl He never worried about what he was wearing, what was in the fridge or whether the carpet was vacuumed or not. He was always thrilled that someone visiting would have a story to share and equally thrilled to have someone listen to his stories in return. He wanted to know what you had done and were going to do next.
Carl was gifted and of those gifts he freely gave to everyone. In his way, he always brought out the good in those who cared for him.
As years went on, his circle of support grew. Carl was terrible at remembering names, but I tried to follow the first names in all his stories. He enjoyed many friendships, some folks I never met, many I did. He knew he would not live forever, and he knew how he wanted to be supported at this end of his life. I did know that it was coming but as one of my best friend, I cried on and off the better part of a week. He had some anxiety about death, but he certain there was a God, certain there was life after and certain and that there would be music there.
When the time came, many of Carl’s friends came to his memorial service, they approached me and shared their story of great friendship. The church was packed, not something” that happens for most folks in their 80’s. At the close of his memorial service the choir sang When the Saints Go Marching In and on the altar, under “his chair” were a pair of Carl’ shoes!
Carl was not someone who was supposed to live on his own. But he did. Like most of us, he got by with a little help from his friends. Carl helped me reach higher, dig deeper, maintain positive approaches and to practice inclusion. In this way, I practiced what I preach, the role model part of exemplary leadership. Many of you have similar stories to tell. Share them freely; they too are gifts of inclusion.