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Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Boy in White

This particular excerpt needs some background explanation: (1) I grew up on a farm in Maine; (2) I loved languages, taught myself many as a child with pen-pals in many countries, as well as studied even more in school; (3) always wanted to be a teacher; (4) was the oldest child in a highly abusive home, sexually, physically, and emotionally, where the greatest amount of physical abuse, nearly always on a daily basis, was delivered by my mother; (5) I was an atheist for 56 years before having a hard conversion at the hand of God; (6) long before my conversion, I was not only exposed to many miracles but also a player in the drama that surrounded them including the rescue of a dying young child artist from Siberia named Shura, for which act the priest at the Russian Orthodox Church in Akademgorodok, gave me the label, Good Samaritan, a label that has stuck. Now, here's the excerpt:

As a child, I loved the song, "The Impossible Dream." I could relate to that. Yes, indeed, I did think that my unreachable star was the story of a farm girl who ultimately, as a polyglot, provides consultation to ministries of education in many lands. However, it turns out this conclusion is faulty. All the experience I have gathered indicates that my original goals of learning languages and teaching were just the means, not the end. The means was given to me in spades ostensibly to provide credibility and a vehicle to speed my journey to the star. I am not there yet, but I know what the end must be. The end was somehow in the beginning: to be a Good Samaritan at times and in places of God’s choosing. I generally succeed at the action, albeit far from always, but I often fail at the timing and the manner. I still try to do things my way, on my schedule, and even, at times, with pugilism. To be a Good Samaritan in God’s humble way of quietly turning bad into good, I need conscious repetition of the ├ętude and guided practice in keyboarding. Shura’s interlude was clearly but one of the themes.

The opening score, surprisingly, occurred in childhood. On one bright, cold winter day, I dragged my sled three houses down the street to our neighbor’s teton-shaped hill, where all the children in our area of town gathered to race down to the mostly untraveled country road below on sleds, cardboard, or whatever else was available.

I pulled my sled up the hill, waving to the other children in the neighborhood but mainly concentrating on the anticipated thrill of the ride. Sledding can, and probably should, be a community sport. It was precisely that on Lengory (Lenin Hills) behind the University of Moscow where I was studying as a graduate student. My daughter Lizzie, who had come to Moscow with me, and her American friend Sally, daughter of an American diplomat, shared Sally’s cherry-colored, round, plastic, American sled that immediately drew to them the attention of the Soviet children who had never seen such an object in their lives, their sanki being oblong and wooden with metal runners. Soon a Russian girl piled onto the sled with Lizzie, and they sailed down the hill amid shrieks and giggles that bonded the American and the Russian in a moment of joy in a moment of time. Then it was Sally’s turn to spin down the moderate slope with a Russian boy. The communal play lasted for a couple of hours, during which the lingua franca was laughter.

The scene on our neighbor’s hill 30 years earlier, however, was significantly different. We were a community of children in the sense that we all knew each other, but our sport was an individual one. We did not share adrenaline-spurred shrieks of fun but rather we quietly felt the thrill that defined the fun of New England downhill sledding.

That afternoon as I was pulling my one-person wooden sled up the hill a third time, I noticed a young boy, clad all in white and definitely not adequately covered for the sub-zero temperature that rosied our noses as they protruded from the scarves wrapped around our necks and faces and tucked into the hoods on our coats. I puzzled over the boy in white only momentarily as I mounted the hill and then the sled and began my third downhill run toward the road. Suddenly, about half-way down the hill, the boy in white, well blended with the surrounding snow in my visual field, began moving across the path over which my sled was about to speed.

“Get out of the way!” I yelled. I was as much annoyed at his being in my path as I was afraid of hurting him. He stepped back, and I briefly caught his sad look as I zipped past.

The memory is old and the details lodged in the mind of an 8-year-old whose perception of the world had moments of extremism. Therefore, I will not insist that every detail was precisely as I remember it today. What I do remember precisely, however, was being shaken by my own unkind words. I hurried home, towing my sled and a bundle of regret and concern. Somebody had to help the boy in white. He was wandering through the New Hampshire cold with no coat! He would freeze on the hill or anywhere else in our neighborhood. He seemed so oblivious to his surroundings and to the cold. He must be poor, indeed, I thought. We did not have much when we were children, but we always had warm clothes, and we were always bundled up, displaying a “cared for” look.

“Ma,” I called as I dropped the rope of the sled and ran into the house. “There is a boy on the hill without a coat. He is going to freeze! We have to help him!”

“Well, let’s go,” she said. I could not point him out through our window, so we set off for the hill. By the time we got there a few minutes later, however, he was nowhere to be found. We looked farther afield, but we saw no lad in white. Ma asked some of the other children, but none remember seeing him. I was at a loss to explain to Ma why he was not there, but she was not angry this time.

In spite of her inability to love her children in an altruistic manner, whenever someone in the greater community needed help, Ma was always jolly on the spot. Those two seemingly mutually exclusive attitudes — cruelty to her children and kindness to the community — made it difficult for us children to understand Ma. It also made it difficult for the community to understand our reaction to Ma for the community’s experience of her has always been positive. Indeed, when it came to community affairs, my experiences under Ma’s wing taught me and all of my siblings responsibility for others. For example, when I entered first grade at our local two-story wooden school, Ma pronounced it a fire hazard and death trap. There was only one staircase, and anyone caught upstairs in a fire would be too high from the ground to jump to safety. So, Ma bundled all of us children, only four of us at that time, in heavy coats, hats that came to our shoulders, scarves that covered our faces so completely that we could barely breathe, thick homemade mittens, woolen pants under woolen skirts, and woolen leggings covered by wool socks and heavy boots. Then off we older three marched with her, with Willie, equally swaddled in layers of wool, lying in the hand-pushed sleigh that served as a baby carriage in snow-covered New England of those days. At door after door, we knocked, and Ma would explain the dangers of a fire starting in the school house. Person after person would sign her petition for a sprinkler system at the school. We met every person who lived in our town, or so it seemed. Several weeks later, Grammy came to babysit us, and Ma went to the school board meeting with her petition in hand and words at the ready. A few weeks after that, the school had a sprinkler system.

As for the boy in white, I never saw him again. My friends insisted that he never was there, that he was a figment of my imagination that had frozen in the cold and was hallucinating snow images. Not a boy in white but a boy of snow. Still, I can see him today as clearly as I saw him on the hill so long ago. Today, I wonder if he was not there to teach me a lesson in kindness, in neighborly love — and to reveal perhaps why Ma may, indeed, live in grace, in spite of all her earlier cruelty and self-absorption for when there was a need for a Good Samaritan, Ma was usually the first volunteer. Perhaps God was using her, too? If God could use an atheist, then perhaps a believer with a temper might also be a potential instrument.

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Adapted from an excerpt from Blest Atheist (copyright 2003, MSI Press).

4 comments:

  1. Wow! I love this story. I am going to look your book up on Amazon to see if I can read a review of it. I reviewed a book a few days ago you may be interested in. It's You Were Born for This--7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles by Bruce Wilkinson. It is about how God uses us to help others......Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment. I am not familiar with the book you mentioned but I am going to look into it. Thanks for mentioning it to me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful. I am familiar with Wilkinson's work but not this particular book. If you happen to read the 21 reasons book, please let me know what you think!

    ReplyDelete
  3. What an interesting story. I'm glad you shared it with us. For sure God can and does choose whomever he pleases to teach a lesson - even atheists.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.
   

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