Shedding Cement Shoes

When I was out running errands with him once, we stopped at his apartment. It was so pitifully sparse I felt a lump in my throat, as he stared at the floor, almost ashamed. Every bit of color had faded from his life, and he had nothing left in his heart to restore it; his world was simply black and white: I am hungry. I am full. I am awake. I am asleep. His demons simply sat on his shoulders, reminding him to hate everything.

New Friend

Without really knowing why, I began to drop in on him at the apartment, and once brought a box of lamps my mom was going to put in a garage sale. I walked around the place, plugging them in and adding light to dismal corners. He fought me on it, but couldn’t help but notice the immediate improvement.

The next time I went there, he’d bought a couple throw rugs and cleaned the sink and table.

When I turned 16 and was able to have a job with a real paycheck instead of handyman cash, I would drop by and visit him from time to time. He always stopped what he was doing and sat and talked with me.

Shortly after college, I dropped by the pizza place and learned he had had a stroke and was being cared for by a niece in Arizona. I sent a few letters, but they went unanswered.

I wish I could tell you this story ended like a Disney movie. In that version I would have received a note indicating that all the items in the apartment were left to me, including a gold coin worth millions. Or perhaps he had even dictated a note for his niece to send to me.

But none of that happened. After hearing that he had died, I went to the kitchen of the restaurant and dug up the ancient coffee mug he used to carry. I washed it as best I could and took it to college for a pencil cup–I just felt as if it kept me attached to him.

Make A Difference

Bill Cosby used to say, “I told you all that so I could tell you this.”

The story from my childhood illustrates I was already blessed in being an enterprising fellow. My parents reminded me constantly that such abilities were a gift. I began to understand that those who have these “gifts” also have a higher calling to help others and fix what’s broken, “fill in the pot holes,” and make the road smooth again.

A man who had grown bitter in life crossed my path, and something he saw in me lightened his load. In some small way, that inspiration changed his life from that point until his death.

But that experience was as much a gift for me as it was for him. I learned how a small investment in people’s hearts can be the most rewarding and important experience in my life.

Each day we have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, but how often do we miss recognizing that moment?

As professionals in the park and recreation industry, we lead, observe, meet, direct, instruct, and influence many people on a daily basis. Let’s be sure to use that opportunity to its fullest potential, and leave a few footprints in the sand for others to follow. It’s what we were meant to do.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at

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