Thirty years ago I walked into the Cranford Judo and Karate Center because I wanted to be a Policeman and figured that one of the things I needed to do was to learn how to defend myself. At the time, a class of about thirty students was going on. The instructor was a young man, not more than 17 or 18 years old, who looked to me like the second coming of Sylvester Stallone. He was strong, powerful and had an air of confidence and self assurance about him that made watching him hypnotic. I stood in the opening to the dojo and watched as he taught, going from person to person like an artist working on a sculpture, carefully adjusting a stance, or hand position, his voice calm and reassuring. After class was over and he saw me standing and watching, he came over to me and we spoke. I explained to him that I was interested in taking karate lessons because I wanted to be a policeman. He laughed, and said that he was trying to be a policeman as well. And so began a friendship that has lasted for thirty years and that I will carry with me forever.
Over the next several years Carl and I were inseparable. For the life of me I don’t know what he saw in me. I was a skinny, not very athletic, uncoordinated Jewish guy. Perhaps he saw me as a challenge. At the time, I worked the night shift in the emergency room at a hospital. Every day I would leave work, go home and change, and meet Carl at the dojo, where we would train in Karate for an hour. Then we would drive over to an old-time bodybuilding gym in Rahway, where we lifted weights for two hours. On the way back to the dojo we finished our workout by running laps and stairs at the Cranford athletic field. As you all know, Carl put his heart and soul into everything that he did. He never did anything “half-way.” I consider myself fortunate to have survived those years, because not a day went by that I wasn’t in excruciating pain, either from being thrown around the mat like a rag doll, or from lifting weights, or from doing some type of exotic exercise.
During this time I met and became close with Carl’s parents, Phil and Adelaide, two of the most loving, caring and wonderful people I have ever known. They made me feel like I was one of the family. One of the things that I admired most about Carl was his overwhelming sense of loyalty and devotion to his parents. His father was a soft spoken, gentle man, who devoted his life to his family. His mother was a warm, loving woman who adored her son. They were responsible for shaping Carl into the man that we all loved and admired and a tribute to Carl must include a tribute to them.
For the last 20 years there has been one constant in Carl’s life, like the rock of Gibraltar, his wife Carol. The love and devotion that the two of them shared is the stuff of great romance novels. If ever a couple were meant for each other it was Carl and Carol. They complemented each other, lived for each other, and were always there for each other.
Carl Cestari was many things to many people. Passionate about his craft, a brilliant thinker, philosopher, teacher and writer, Carl was a modern day “everyman.” I don’t know a single person whose life has positively affected more people than Carl Cestari’s. As we all know, life is filled with challenges, and I don’t know anyone who faced more challenges in his life than Carl. I don’t know anyone who faced those challenges with more dignity, grace and strength than Carl. Throughout our thirty year friendship, I never once heard Carl bemoan his fate, curse the Gods or feel pity for himself. I watched a man whose spirit and soul were strong, and untouchable, who literally laughed at pain, and dared life to give him its best shot. I knew a man whose life was devoted to his wife, his family and his friends, who lived passionately, who cared deeply, spoke softly and loved unconditionally. I knew a man whose outside was steel, and whose inside was as soft as a gentle breeze. I knew a man who taught my daughter to tie her shoes when I couldn’t, and who taught me more about the meaning of life than I learned over my 53 years of living.
When I look around this room at the faces of all of the people whose lives Carl has touched, I try to find an answer to this overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. Then I think about what Carl would say to me in this situation. He would tell me that life is what we make of it. That if we live our lives with honor and dignity and humility we will leave a legacy that will fill the void when we are gone. Then he would smile, shrug his shoulders, lift his hands (palms up) and say “it is what it is.” God bless you my dear friend, I love you always.