Ithaca Blog

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wisdom From Above

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

Kenny Davis As Perry Mason was pretty convincing in making the case of neither of us as team captain, and of course he was right - all down the line, too, as Tommy Konwinski was, indeed, named captain by our coach.

So, Kenny was world-wise, at age 7 (or 8?). And I was world-weary, with this dispiriting development.

The words I couldn't quite find with Kenny, or anyone else, about the situation, I found with my mother. I had briefed her earlier. Now I was coming home with the dread conclusion.

"He's captain. Tommy Konwinski, big guy, conceited jerk. What good does that do anybody?

"He's the strongest player. But he doesn't lead anybody. He doesn't talk to half the kids. They're not good enough. He only talks to other kids who don't need any help and don't like anybody, like him."

That was the gist of it, although the un-gist was (rest assured) protracted.

At one point, my mother got up from the dining room table. "I'm still listening," she said, as she went into the kitchen.

She came back with a plate with four Oreos and a glass of milk for me. Uh-oh. That meant this was serious in her mind, for me. I had a raw vice for Oreos, which I tried to fight, so this was like opening a bottle for a bad drinker, This One Time.

I was done talking. Now was my mother's turn.

"This all reminds me of something," she said. "Some things," she decided. "That I've been thinking about since you first discussed this with me.

"Do you remember," she asked, "when they had you reading the Bible by yourself in school? Because you were too far ahead for Reading class?"

"Uh-huh," I said. That was in first grade.

"And how some of the stories disturbed you? In some it was the language. In some it was the thought."

"Mm-hmm," I said. I knew not where she was heading.

"One was the story of the lepers and the tax collectors. And how Jesus welcomed them and stayed with them, even though they were shunned by society. And you said," and she was laughing - editing herself - "well, you said you couldn't live up to that example.

"I told you not to worry, that Jesus only expects - well, I told you not to worry and we would talk about it someday when I thought it would be easier for you to understand. Today is that day.

"Jesus wants us to take care of each other, and think of others before yourself - or along with yourself, at least. He uses the example of lepers just to shock us into thinking. We can't do what he did. But we can follow his example.

"On your team, you don't try to aggrandize yourself by staying with the better players. You spend time with the boys who are not so good, and try to help them get better."

"I spend the most time with my friend Kenny Davis. He's my best friend and he's one of the best players."

"But you are friends. You don't hang around with him because he's good? He's talented but he also helps the other boys - you told me. He's modest. Like you. I bet you would like him if he was modest but not good, and you wouldn't like him if he was good but not modest."

I turned an Oreo on the plate.

"You always knew all this, in your heart, and I knew you knew. But it wasn't until you had enough experience in life, that I could talk to you about it clearly.

"My next thought, the story that really disturbed you - that was 'disgusting' - was Jesus saying if your hand leads you to trouble, cut it off, or if your eye, pluck it out. Remember?"

I did, like a story from a horror comic.

"Well," my mother said, "again, Jesus was making a point. Dramatically. And again the point was to people like Tommy Konwinski.

"It's a message with a lot of levels. But one simple level is to boys like Tommy. That if God gives you a gift - like a good hand, or eye, or you're good at sports - and you don't use your gifts generously, then it's better that you never had them. Because God expects things of us based on our blessings."

"To whom much is given, much is expected," I said.

"Exactly. So I don't want you to worry about the injustice of Tommy being named captain. That isn't as important as the work you do.

"And that's my final point. The story - this is not one that bothered you - that Jesus tells of the Pharisees who pray out on the street, or loudly in the temple, so everyone will hear, and think good of them.

"Jesus said, those men already have their reward.

"He told us to pray in private. And then we would get our reward, the important one we're praying for, not the cheap one in men's eyes."

I nodded - solemnly, perhaps, but vigorously enough, I hoped.

"You see, don't you?," my mother asked.

"I do," I said.

"Good," she said, smiling. "Now, I've talked a lot. Do you want to talk more? Or ask anything?"

I thought. "No," I said simply.

"You get it, right?"

"Right," I said, and I knew she knew I meant it. "I'm just going to go upstairs a while."

"You haven't eaten those Oreos," she said.

"It's alright?," I said. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. "I'll have them tonight."

"Okay," my mother said.

I went upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my two brothers.

The sun streamed in and our bedsheets were bright. Eddie's was orange, Paddy's was yellow, mine was NFL, with logos. I guess the different sheets helped us stay personally distinct, in a small space.

I looked out the window at our yard and the alley and the street. I turned around and knelt down at my bed. I put my forehead to the bed, on my folded arms, and said Thank You. I didn't want anything but to say that.

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