Albert Schweitzer, a devoted humanitarian, once wrote: "Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to raise it to its true value."
That observation was never more evident that at Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church on Richmond Highway Monday morning. It was filled with those who had come to honor the works and memory of a man that had truly devoted himself "to his life ... to raise it to its true value."
John Robert Carroll was only 59 when his body was discovered on the side of the road near his new home in Harrington, Del. Prior to his relocation he had spent many years as a resident of Fairfax County along the Route 1 corridor.
It was at first thought that he had been a hit and run victim. Then the autopsy revealed he had suffered a stroke while riding his bike, fallen, and struck his head on a rock, according to the Reverend Keary Kincannon, pastor of Rising Hope.
As Kincannon said, "We have had a lot of funerals at Rising Hope. Particularly for those who have not been able to deal with life's stresses. But John Carroll was a success story and he brought that story to all he encountered."
Born September 16, 1945m in Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C., the son of Thomas and Lenora Carroll, he grew up in Silver Spring, Md., with his older sister, now Joan C. Banda. He enlisted in the Navy and served as a medic in both Vietnam and at the Philadelphia Naval Medical Center.
Then commenced his downward spiral, as experienced by so many who served in that Southeast Asian conflict. In December of 1995, he was released from the hospital to recuperate at Fairfax County's Eleanor Kennedy Shelter.
It was there he first encountered Kincannon who was attempting to establish a mission church working out of his Toyota. "He was very skeptical of me when we first met. He thought, 'who is this guy coming here to preach to us. What does he know?,'" Kincannon revealed.
"But he got involved and became our first lay leader. He was so instrumental in so much we have done. He was the one who gave us our theme "Jesus rocks your soul and rolls your blues away." He developed, and had printed, the button we wear, "I'm filled with Rising Hope," he told the crowd.
"John helped us tremendously in our early days. He was a founding member in 1996. He was the one who first spotted the building that will be our new home in August, at 8220 Russell Road. He knew it was going to be on the market and told me we needed to jump on it," Kincannon said.
"John worked at every level with the homeless. He had been there and he knew the grief of the families. But he did not accept excuses. He knew recovery was possible. He had done it. But he also knew you had to work at it day by day. He was proud to tell anyone who would listen he had been sober for 13 years," Kincannon reminded the assemblage.
JOINING KINCANNON in eulogizing Carroll was the Reverend Martha Callaway, pastor, Asbury United Methodist Church, Harrington. Carroll had moved there because he could no longer afford to live in Fairfax County on his military disability pension, according to Kincannon.
He also impacted the life of the Reverend Diane Melson, pastor, United Methodist Church, Seaford, Del., the church he attended when he first moved to that state. "The John Carroll that I came to know was a very complex individual. He was very sensitive. But he also had bold plans. He struggled everyday to free himself from the residue of the war," Melson recalled.
Many of those present had their own recollections of this man that interacted with their lives. There was his childhood friend Owen Sobel who attended junior and senior high school with Carroll. And there was Barbara Sharif who not only attended Rising Hope with John but also viewed him as a mentor.
Not all expressed their feelings in words. David Berardi, a volunteer at Rising Hope, chose to express his remembrance in song. He noted that Carroll was an avid music fan and collector with a wide array of recordings. Berardi paid tribute with his solo rendition of "The Ballad of Easy Rider," as he played his guitar.
The one characteristic that was echoed throughout the service was Carroll's penchant for sharing his ideas, both in person and by telephone — no matter what the hour. Each speaker, including Kincannon and the two Delaware ministers, recalled John getting them on the phone to tell them a new discovery or idea.
"Many of those conversations went on for an hour or more," Kincannon and others recalled. "He was an incredibly passionate person about life."
His sister, Joan Banda, remembered her younger brother as being not only "easy to talk to about religion" but also one who "broadcast his love of God and shared that with all others." She also noted that he was a collector.
"Even as a little boy he was a real collector. It didn't matter if it was new or used. He saw it as something he might be able to use sometime. But, he was also a collector of people and relationships," she said.
AS THE PROGRAM for the service stated, "John overcame great obstacles in his life, the death of both parents while relatively young, a tour in Vietnam, alcoholism and health problems. He would not be defeated."
It also pointed out that he was passionate about people as he was in life and that carried over to his death. "John has given the gift of life. John's heart was given to a 55 year old man ...John's liver was transplanted into a 32 year old woman ... John's corneas were transplanted into two other women." All reside in Pennsylvania.
"John lives in many ways," it stated. Half of his ashes will be placed in the Sussex County Delaware Veterans Cemetery. The other half will be scattered on the Chesapeake Bay.
Those who gathered at Rising Hope Church Monday morning were living testimony that John Robert Carroll had indeed raised his life "to its true value."