His long hair was wiry and never seemed to be tamed by a comb. Streaks of grey peppered his hair that stood out like a troll doll. His jet-black beard matched the length of the mop that appeared to defy gravity. His pressed button down shirts were neatly tucked into his slacks.
Mirrored aviator sunglasses, popular in the late 80s and early 90s, were secured to his face that added to the overall mystery of this white guy who had not once spoken to anyone except a controlled statement of greeting. He would give a single nod of his head to acknowledge one of us, “Good day.” He had always passed by the entrance to the dorm without a change in his blank expression. No one ever met his roommate.
The desk clerk told us his name was Carl. Carl walked extremely slowly. Each step was heel to toe precise. His symmetrical paths on the sidewalk baffled the group of college freshman that lived in Clark Hall at the University of North Texas.
Carl walked with his arms behind his back. His left hand clasped his right wrist. The only time his left hand was not attached to his right wrist was the times he used his left hand to open the front door to the residence hall.
Curiosity got the best of me one day and I asked if he wanted to take a seat with us outside. Carl turned slowly and said, “Most certainly.”
I nervously asked where he lived and he replied. “You know where I live. You live down the hall from me,” he spoke in a measured pace.
The group hurled a flurry of questions like there would be no second chance to pose our queries. Carl was eighteen years old and a Physics student. I silently wondered if his increased IQ points caused his hair to prematurely gray. It took me several minutes to connect his physical similarities to Albert Einstein. With the barrage of intellectual inquiries, I threw out what I really wanted to know. “Carl, why do you walk so damn slow?”
He turned his head, paused for a few seconds, and stated, “I’m in no hurry.”
Inconceivable! I retorted, “But what if you are late?”
Without a moment of hesitation, “Then I am late. Hurrying won’t change that fact.” Carl had brought logic to an irrational battle of wits. Carl’s stripped down eloquence caused a chain reaction of new possibilities. In my mind, to be late was bad and to be even “more late” was “badder”. I was the hare confident in my assumptions. Carl was the turtle.
For the rest of my freshman year, I observed Carl take his calculated steps and he would occasionally sit with me to drop bombs of provocative reflection and universal truths. It was the first time I realized I could choose my reaction to events. I could respond rather than react.
I never saw Carl smile. Additionally, his sunglasses were always on his face. He had a stoic peace about him. Our conversations made a huge impression on me.
Twenty-five years later, Carl’s words and nature remind me to view the world through a different lens. Solutions do not have to be complicated. Sage advice can come at any minute by the most unexpected messenger. Valuing the opportunities to absorb new perspectives only makes me stronger.