January 4, 2014; Ft. Meyers, FL

I woke up at 5:15 this morning for an early morning flight to return to Chicago.

Shortly after turning off my phone's alarm, I glanced at my cell phone, and saw the disturbing text message left late last night by a friend:

“I heard tonight that Carl died … It's awfully sad … ."

“Wow!" I responded. “How horrible."

A moment later, I sent a follow up text: “Carl (Occhipinti) was one of the most beautiful and generous people I have ever known. How we'll miss him."

Now, sitting at the airport, with my flight delayed 90 minutes, I visited the most recent medium used by people to express their shock and condolences: Facebook.

After reading a few entries, I came to realize that we each felt such a special connection with a very special friend.

Is there a better mark of a life well lived than when a multitude of people profess to have a special connection with that person?

I met Carl well around fifteen years ago at a Jarvis Street block party. He gave me a free foot massage. At the time, Carl's principle profession was massage therapy; acting and directing plays was his hobby.

In time, after becoming a massage client, I learned that Carl's niche was energy work – and he viewed his massage table and the room where he gave his massages as a “sacred space."

Come to think of it, Carl often spoke of “sacred spaces" – as I remember him describing a stage as another of his “sacred spaces."

One time, immediately after a massage, Carl asked me if I had noted anything special midway through the massage. Apparently, in the middle of the massage, just before requesting that I flip from my stomach to my back, he noted a presence in the room,.

“No" I replied. I couldn't think of anything special. “Why?"

“You didn't feel the presence of your mother?" (She had died twenty years earlier.) “She was here."

“Damn" I replied. “Why didn't you wake me up and tell me?

Carl's biggest thrill was offering people an opportunity to experience their dreams. If Carl learned that someone was suppressing their creative side, Carl would do all he could to help that person overcome any obstacles and find their inner voice.

It didn't matter who the person was – their age, or even their creative talent was not an issue. If Carl sensed that they had a suppressed desire to be creative, Carl wanted to do whatever he could to help inspire that person to pursue that dream, and achieve that feeling of awe one can experience through self expression through art.

This is what he did many years ago with my father.

My father, Marvin Glasser worked hard his entire life as a traveling salesman, and later in life, he had a chance to run the company. Throughout his life, as did most parents from the WWII generation, my Dad put any personal interest or passion aside so as to earn a living and provide his kids with a better life.

It was probably around 2001 when I took my entire family to the Heartland Theater for a special Mother's Day production of the play Harvey. My new friend Carl Occhipinti was directing and starring.

He was the rabbit.

After the show, I asked Carl and his partner Gary to join my family for a Mother's Day dinner at a local restaurant, My Place For on Clark and Howard..

During the dinner, Carl sat next to my Dad, and the conversation turned to the subject of acting.

“Carl" my Dad said, half kidding. “I was a thespian once myself"

“Oh really, Mr. Glasser. Please tell me more," Carl replied.

“Yes, I played Scrooge in the Christmas Carol in a school play. I was twelve years old, so it was 1934."

Carl heard my Dad, (at the time, age 77), profess his love for acting and voicing his regret that he never had a chance to pursue it later in life.

Carl told my Dad that it wasn't too late to start.

Within a week, Carl showed up at my Dad's office door (my Dad worked out my building, which was across the street from Carl's residence) and he started offering my Dad acting lessons. They repeated these sessions frequently over the ensuing months, with never a dollar being exchanged. Carl enthusiastically took up this mentoring project, encouraging my Dad to audition for a part in a play that his friend was directing.

Sure enough, Marvin auditioned, and shortly after the audition proudly exclaimed “I nailed the audition. I am surprised they even auditioned anyone else. I'll get it."

How fortunate that Carl was available a few days later to console my Dad when he didn't land the part. Carl explained to me that my Dad, a former Toastmaster, had to learn more about the nuances of acting. “Your Dad must learn that acting is different than giving a speech."

Carl continued to provide my father acting lessons.

A month later, Carl announced to my Dad that a group would be reading a play at the Hot House on Elston, and that he was able to arrange for my Dad to be one of the readers. None of us knew that Carl had asked the director if she would do him a favor and give my Dad a chance to perform in front of a live audience.

The night of the reading, our family and friends all gathered, as we watched my Dad experience one of the biggest thrills of his advanced years – performing as an actor in front of an appreciative crowd.

The experience so inspired my Dad that shortly thereafter he enrolled in an acting class at Oakton Community College– and attended class with young people fifty years younger than him.

Carl gave my father a wonderful gift – a blessing during his final years before he died ten years ago. For Carl, his reward was simply seeing the profound effect that his mentor-ship offered an aging man who, because of Carl's intervention, learned that it was not too late to take a chance and pursue his goals.

May our memories of this wonderful man inspire us to pursue our own dreams, and, in addition, to inspire others. Carl taught so many of us to get over our self doubts – that it is okay and it is never too late to pursue our dreams.

That would be a most fitting way to honor the memory of Carl Occhipinti.

- Mike Glasser

Read Obituary