Ted Strollo was an Italian immigrant who emigrated to California for a better life. He had few possessions, no family and no job. He built a little cabin in the woods above Los Gatos. He drank acorn coffee. He was a kind man and a master wood worker. He carved out of a single piece of wood an amazing sculpture with perfect cylindrical wooden balls in the middle. He called the piece the “mystery tree of life.” He led a quiet but lonely life. Until the day he was struck by a vehicle and hurled twenty feet through the air.
My father, an administrative law judge, was on his way home from work when he witnessed the accident. He pulled over and rendered aid as best he could. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and spoke to the police and doctors. He learned that the victim was a transient with no family. He discovered that the man had no money for legal representation. So he decided to intervene and help.
Ted Strollo spent over a month at our home recuperating. He stayed in our guest room and my mother prepared his meals and did his laundry. When he recovered my father found him an affordable apartment and secured some state benefits. We used to visit him on weekends. My father would buy him Stella Dora cookies and socks. Dad once told me,” Johnny, the elderly are often forgotten and overlooked. They have much to teach us, if we are willing to take the time to listen.” I never forgot that.
I don’t remember when Ted Strollo passed away, but I remember he gave my father his prized sculpture, the “mystery tree of life.” We kept it in our family for many years before my Dad finally donated it to some Italian cultural society.
My father lost his battle with dementia and renal complications in 2004. It had been a very difficult couple of years for me. In many ways, the father became the son, the son became the father, and I had the opportunity to be there for him. I shepherded my father through his medical odyssey and handled all the legal arrangements for my mother. We held a beautiful memorial, buried my father and tried to return to our daily lives.
I read once about something called “the second death.” When we die our loved ones live on and remember us. They reminisce about the past and our lives together. Sometimes they pass down stories about us to the grandchildren. But eventually we are forgotten. And that is our “second death. ”
Each of us holds a super power. Not the kind we see in Spiderman movies. It’s a real super power that can be wielded by young and old alike. What is this mysterious super power? Charity and kindness towards others. Each of us has the power to improve the life of another.
Whether serving the hungry in a soup kitchen or nursing an Italian immigrant back to health. Perhaps we will never know how our charitable actions have helped reset a wayward course. Maybe our actions will be forgotten with subsequent generations as we approach our “second death.” And that’s okay. True heroes don’t act for personal glory but for the greater good.
Who knows how many acts of kindness my father set in motion by helping Ted Strollo. How many people did Ted Strollo positively touch in his remaining years? We may never know, but charitable actions towards others produce a sort of grace in this world. Such actions make the world a better place. They elevate humanity.
We may forget the names of these angels on earth who selflessly help others, but through their kindness and charity we inch a bit closer to the divine. And that is a much greater thing than personal legacy. That is our super power on earth. And that transcends our “second death.”