Illuminated

Trent Palmer sits across from me in the back of Mrs. Patterson’s seventh-grade English-grammar class.  He is dark, unusually dark complexioned compared to almost all of the other adolescents in school.  Moving through the hallways, among a crowd of third-generation Germanic and Scandinavian immigrants, he is an exotic, ethereal and appears to be almost other worldly.

Spirituality

This trait alone could have set him apart, but he also sports a jaunty limp whenever he walks, setting him further apart from the general, middle-school crowd. When Trent is standing straight, his shoulders do not match and, at the end of the one arm held closer to his body, his right hand curls into a permanent fist. With the diplomacy missing almost universally among all seventh-graders, I tell him it is a good thing he is left handed—attempting to be positive without succeeding at being even remotely socially appropriate.

In the back of English-grammar class, while Mrs. Patterson lectures from her desk in the far, front corner, Trent and I swap one-liners under our breath.  He smirks at my quips, and I smile at his one-liners.  We have a grand time. And, though I never speak of it, something inside of me loves something inside of him. I love his audaciously rare beauty, his gently skidding speech, his intellect, his brilliant white teeth and, most especially, that we are partners in our own secret comedy club.

Unlike the time I spend in the halls between or in other classes, I actually look forward to English-grammar class and the feeling of wholeness that seems to live there when I sit alongside Trent.  No one seems the wiser about my feelings, including Trent.  Then, my sense of wholeness comes to an abrupt end when Trent and his family move away suddenly.

Community gossip has it that Trent’s family felt he had been singled out for ridicule, the town was too small and that Trent’s intellectual needs were not being met by the district’s curriculum or teachers.  I miss my friend terribly.

Yet, time has a way of gently erasing old hurts. And, the faces and names of middle-school friends become paved-over by the faces and names of those friends we make in high school and college.

Then, decades later, while reading about one of the posters put up in ancient, Roman-occupied Judea, calling for Jesus’ arrest, I read a description of Jesus as being dark, not overly tall, with uneven shoulders and that, if he is seen walking, he walks with a slight limp.  From a distant well within my heart, an image of Trent and his radiant Light flood in. At the same time, I also remember some of the most awkward things I said to Trent which must have hurt him terribly.

Recalling how Trent’s one hand formed a permanent right-handed fist, I think if I were he in seventh grade, I would have wanted to punch God full in the face for making my body something less than perfectly symmetrical—especially given the width and breadth of Trent’s  joyful Spirit and keen intellect.

My thinking at the time was this: If God had been paying attention, Trent’s whole, radiant and flawless Spirit would have been reflected in a perfectly symmetrical physical presentation for Trent.

But, as an adult, I realize that circumstances on the physical plane often do not work out that way. And, now, when I remember Trent, I know his physical presentation to be a perfect reflection of that which is most certainly of God.

Children of the Light II

I have a theory that our souls remember every kindness, injury, relationship, pain and Grace bestowed upon us by the actions and inactions of the Light in the souls of Others among us.

Months have gone by since the late morning, early one spring day, when a few words issued from my mouth allowed one teenage boy to regain his Light, after an intense outdoor domestic scene involving his cross and churlish mother.

Spirituality

Walking one of my regular routes to the coffeehouse to work, I see a teenage boy pop out of the same house. The boy is veritably skipping down the long flight of stairs from the front door toward the sidewalk ,where I am passing. From his perspective, the day looks to be a good one.

Almost past the house, I hear the boy shout out to me, “Hey! Are you having a good day?”

A blanket of tense, cogitative fog lifts from around my own dampened Light. Looking over my shoulder to meet his gaze, I give him a standard and socially acceptable reply, “Fine. Thank you for asking.”

Stopping his lank frame at the bottom of the steps, he calls out again, “I want you to have a good day. You need to have a good day.”

His command is a blessing. It is only then that I realize that this may be the same child of Light whom I tried to help one early spring day.

Walking on, I unearth the sacred space in my heart again, and I thank him silently, “And, you too, my friend. And, you too.”

Children of the Light I

Walking through a neighborhood not far from our own, I observe a woman grab the forearm of her gangly teenage son in vicious impatience. She does this only to yank him closer to herself so that she may spew several ugly, vitriolic phrases in his face about his worthlessness as a human being.

From the looks of the home’s side yard, it appears that the entire family of four has been out working, raking the side-yard dirt to free it from last year’s debris. A new chicken-wire fence is in place. Last fall’s leaves, twigs, sticks and branches, as well as a few scraggily green vines, rest in a heap in the corner of the area which is now cleared dirt.

Spirituality

The only friendly motion in the scene I am witnessing comes from the wriggling swaying tail of a puppy’s unstoppable joy at the undeniable beauty of this early spring day. I suspect the raking has something to do with making way for this family’s new canine friend. I wish that this puppy’s happiness could be magnified and distributed among all five souls present.

Today, I do not hold back. Turning my body halfway around to address the woman, while putting on my very best positive voice, I almost shout, “Wow, are you lucky to have such great help in the yard! Beautiful day to be outside. My own son is all grown up. Hardly see him. Busy. They grow up so fast.”

The woman stares back at me in shocked amazement (maybe at my cheery impudence), loosening her grip on her older male child’s forearm. Her mouth gapes in awe.

Mission accomplished. Further, immediate verbal abuse truncated. But, I can see that the boy’s personal Light is still crumpled up and twisted around his lank physical frame, leaving him vulnerable and emotionally unprotected.

Turning to continue on my walk, I say a silent prayer for this child, “Dear God, please protect this holy child, restore his Light and help him remember who he is—Yours.”

Making Plans

One. Two. Three. Four. Boys were born twelve months apart to a couple living in a house down the block in the community of my early childhood. Talented and hardworking. The parents of all four boys were gainfully employed as teachers.

Spirituality

As each child arrived, careful plans were made and special funds were started so that each child might attend college at eighteen. Pennies. Nickels. Dimes. Quarters. Kennedy half-dollars. Coins were dropped in jars for the funds. Regular deductions were taken from the checks of each parent.

Wanting what was best for their boys, both parents began taking progressively better jobs with more responsibilities, higher pay and more hours away from home. With the longer work hours, the couple cast about for proper childcare. Care was found. Yet, at times, it seemed as though the boys were becoming feral or as though they existed in two separate worlds—that orderly world of their parents’ preordained desire and the sphere of chaos they created under the watch of even the most trusted childcare providers.

From my childhood perspective, theirs was a house of loosely supervised mayhem down the block, floating like an untethered island on the move in a very large lake.

Turning the corner from boyhood to manhood, each man-child piled into his individual dinghy and left the mayhem of the island behind, setting a course for some point far, far away. Not one of those boys chose to pack his bags, load the family car and make the journey to university with his parents’ carefully planned financial support.