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The Power of One

It has long been my contention that a single person can have an impact upon the affairs of the world. Maybe that person will become a force for good or maybe they will become a force for evil, one cannot always tell. However, history has shown that one caring, concerned and committed person can influence events within the lives of other people.

That is the point of this visit with you. I have met such a person.

Let me suggest to you that it is my intention to stand on a point of personal privilege this time around my friends. A singularly important occasion was marked in the Carter Family and it is my intention to share it with you. However, as is my way, I will attempt to share with you a few lessons which were learned along the way.

May 14 and 15, 2010 will long stand out in my mind for the personal importance of the events which occurred. While they were momentous days for the Carter Family, they are probably of minor consequence to the rest of the world. However, all that I have to say in this visit with you will be of little value unless you come to understand the context within which my personal thoughts were developed.

On May 14, my son Todd received his first master's degree at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, PA, not far from Philadelphia. He received his Master of Divinity cum laude upon the completion of five years of study. He is now in the home stretch for his second master's degree which he should complete by next May.

It was with a great deal of pride and joy that my wife, Jackie, and I, along with her sister Meg, watched Todd receive his degree from Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of the Arch Diocese of Philadelphia, and Monsignor Joseph Prior, Rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. As my wife and I sat there basking in the glow of the moment, my mind began to drift back many, many years.

There were the thoughts of Todd as a young child struggling to overcome the curse of his speech afflictions. Then there were the thoughts of his time in the special needs course program under the direct tutelage of Nancy Muck, a high school classmate. But then there was the joy occasioned by his graduation from middle school and then high school as a member of the National Honor Society.

Of course there were the many hours which he and I shared as members of the school bands in middle school and high school. It was one of the great joys in my life getting to play in the bands which performed at all of my children's graduation ceremonies. His high school principal, Dr. Hayden, used to introduce me as Dr. Carter, Grade 20 at his school events.

Then again there was also that happy day back in 2005 when Jackie and I sat in the bleachers at the College of New Jersey commencement ceremony. That was the day when Todd earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics. Many of you out there have known these same sorts of banner days in your family. For those you who have children that are still younger, please savor your time with them my friends, because they will all-too-soon pass to adulthood.

Saturday, May 15 was an even bigger day for us. It was on that day that our son Todd was raised to the order of Deacon in the Diocese of Trenton, in a service of ordination at Mary, Mother of God Church in Middletown, NJ. He was one of seven young men who were ordained to the Deaconate by Bishop John Mortimer Smith. It was at some point during this service that my wife turned to me and commented that Todd had truly made his firm commitment to our Lord.

Later on Saturday, my wife and daughters, Ellen and Katie, and I, ably assisted once again by my wife's sister Meg Muller, journeyed to Todd's home parish, the Church of St. Catherine, in Port Monmouth, for his first mass as a Deacon. This was a particularly moving event because it was at the 5:00 p.m. mass that Todd delivered his first homily. My heart was bursting with pride as Todd spoke of the story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. I will be offering more thoughts on this story later.

Scott Brown, our friend and Senior Pastor at the Colts Neck Reformed Church came to support Jackie and me. A number of our friends from around the area, along with several of Todd's friends from college were in attendance to hear his words of wisdom. Also in attendance were a number of long-time friends and co-workers from the school where my wife works as the school nurse.

It is important to note that our dear friends, Reed and Nancy Feuster came to worship at the service. Nancy was one of Todd's Christian Nursery School teachers back in the mid-1980's at Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold Township. Let me suggest to you that it was really neat to see the look of pride in her eyes when she spoke with Todd after the service. Nancy and her husband Reed have been friends of ours for a long time now.

At some time or another Todd has had an impact upon the lives of a number of people. Whether they were fellow students at The College of New Jersey, members of the Newman Club at TCNJ, or parishioners at St. Catherine's or any the parishes or schools where he has served his internships, Todd impressed them in some way. They came out to honor him on his special day.

Todd began his homily by speaking of the death of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the church, shortly after he delivered his first homily in the church. Apparently his words about our Lord so thoroughly antagonized the assembled masses that they stoned him to death. After delivering this moving story about the sacrifice of that fine man, Todd paused for a moment to let the story sink in.

He then reminded the congregation of his hope that this old tradition would not be reprised for his first homily. The congregation responded to his comment with a long and loud round of laughter. He had influenced them with his words. My wife and I were both in tears at this point.

Todd then went on to point out that within the howling mob which stoned St. Stephen to death was one man who would later have a great impact upon the growth of the church. That man was Saul. It now seems as though he was the one person within that mass of angry humanity who came to understand the meaning of the message delivered by Stephen, though this would not manifest itself until his conversion on the road to Damascus.

My friends, I am not sufficiently grounded in the Bible to speak to the exact manner of that impact, but suffice it to say that the man who later became Paul had a hand in creating the Bible and spreading the word. We see here that in his death, St. Stephen had an influence which carried on after his passing; an influence which has persisted through the ages.

Whether they are spoken or written, words can have a powerful impact upon people. At least that has been my experience over the past several decades. My life has been blessed with many opportunities to share what I have learned in my many years as a member of the fire and emergency service world. People have given far more to me than I could ever pass on to others, but I keep trying.

Let me suggest that I am now at that point in my life where it is critical to me to share the knowledge that I have gleaned from my service as a military, career, and volunteer firefighter. Many are the e-mails which I have received from you thanking me for something I said, wrote, or did. I am humbled by your response to my efforts over the years.

However, I am now even more humbled by the changes which I have witnessed in my son over the past several years of his study at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He has grown in knowledge, wisdom, and influence. I sort of knew this from our many philosophical discussions over the past several years. But the events of last Saturday presented me with solid evidence that my son is destined to make a difference in the world.

Countless people came up to my wife and me with stories of the impact Todd had upon their lives. One lady from Todd's congregation came up to us and spoke of how blessed she and her husband felt to have had Todd officiate at their wedding. Other spoke of a particular kind word that he had spoken or a charitable deed that he performed. They praised him for his thoughts, guidance, and wisdom. Talk about bringing a person to tears. I believe that I pretty much came to tears on at least a dozen separate occasions during the day.

Let me share with you the fact that I take a lot of heat in my family for being an emotional sort of guy. I still cry during the scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" when the judge finds that Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus. My oldest daughter Ellen must have leaned over to me several times during the service telling me to, "...get a grip Dad." Her sister Katie helped by rolling her eyes as if on cue. However, it is hard not to be emotional when you see that your very own son is having such an impact on a group of fellow Christians.

That is really the point of this piece. I am suggesting to you that each and every one of you can make a difference in the world, or at least your little part of it. However, my thoughts here come with a warning. There is a great danger that your efforts will not be met with universal love and approbation. My hard experience allows me to suggest to you that the chances are great you will meet with a quite a bit of resistance in pushing for changes and improvements in your fire department. People have a habit of preferring the comfortable here and now.

Let me also suggest that there is a price to be paid for standing up and proclaiming a message of any kind in the world today. While your punishment may not be as great as that suffered by St. Stephen, let me assure you that people can be cruel when their world and beliefs are challenged. The fact that their beliefs may be wrong-headed and dangerous will not lesson their willingness to attack you for your ideas and efforts.

Let me also promise you that there is a lot of pain and frustration in being "ahead of the curve" with new ideas. Almost 20 years ago I was speaking of consolidation and shared services as a way to improve the service delivery capabilities of my consulting clients. Talk about something being as unpopular as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward. You would have thought that I was smacking someone's Mom as she baked an apple pie while wrapped in an American flag. Such was the zealous nature of those who attacked me.

But time marches on and now many of the same people who attacked me for my ideas are championing the new push in New Jersey for shared services and consolidating fire, police, and EMS within their communities. I often think of these fine folks as I sit out on my front porch savoring one of my favorite cigars. Sometimes I can even manage a smile as I think of the battles which have been waged. It is a source of great pride to see my ideas finally being accepted.

So there you have it my friends. You can make a difference. However, you can only make a difference if you get off of your collective kiesters and do something. Please try. Wouldn't it be sad if you came to the end of your life and looked back at a time spent doing nothing more than the minimum? Think about it. Thank you my friends for taking time out of your lives to read my words.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. You can follow Harry through his blog, The View from my Front Porch. He has published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at