The Gift of Gil
Scores of Denverites have opened their lives to an autistic man named Gilbert Carpinelli with the hope of helping him out.
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.—Viktor Frankl
You've never seen a face light up until you've seen Gilbert Carpinelli when Kate Springs walks into North Presbyterian. His lips part, exposing that huge pink smile. Gil hugs Kate; Kate hugs him back. When Kate turns to talk to a fellow churchgoer, Gil blows on her hair. "Fuzzy!" he says. Later, Kate and I are alone and I remark how much Gil clearly loves her. She smiles and says, "Well, I love him, too, Mike."
We're standing in the lobby before the worship. Today is Father's Day, and every year since Gilbert left Five Points, he and Bob have spent this holiday together, riding bikes. Gilbert fiddles with his bike, Thunder Junior, and then looks at me and says, "We're going for a big bike ride today, Michael. It's gonna be a great day." This is the most he'll ever say to me at once, but it's more than enough.
After the service we eat hamburgers—Gil calls them "meat sandwiches"—at the Springs', and then Bob and Gil and I load up Bob's old Toyota Camry and head to the bike path at 55th and Lowell. "Fuzzy-fuzzy-fuzzy-fuzzy!" Gil says, as we strap on helmets and sip from water bottles. Today we're riding clear to Westminster. Gil takes off before I finish tying my shoes. Bob and I catch up and pass him. Then Gil steps on it and says, "I'm gonna put the hammer down, Dad!" before riding away at approximately four miles per hour with a smile as wide as his handlebars. "I can fly like an eagle! Fuzzy-fuzzy-fuzzy!"
Bob catches up to Gilbert and shouts back, "I'm gonna put the hammer down on you, Gilly." And Gil just beams. This continues for about two hours and a dozen miles or more. The three of us play a casual game of bicycle leapfrog, riding triple-file for a few hundred yards, passing, dropping back, alternating positions. Later, at the bottom of a steep incline, Gilbert puts his feet on the ground, stands on tiptoe over the frame of Thunder Junior, and walks the 80-pound hog to the top; Gil never gets off and pushes. "I love to go for a bike ride with my dad on Father's Day," he says. "This a great Sunday, Michael."
"It sure is, Gil," I say.
After cresting the hill, Gilbert's back on Thunder Junior, pedaling like mad, trying to leave Bob and me in the dust. "Fuzzy-fuzzy-fuzzy-fuzzy," he says. Bob catches up and rides alongside Gil for a moment. Then he moves in close and shouts at the top of his lungs, "Fly like an eagle, Gilly. Fly like an eagle!"
Mike Kessler is an editor-at-large for 5280. E-mail him at email@example.com.