What happens when a seven year old boy walks out of a classroom and refuses to stop? Or when he runs across a playground toward the high chain link fence? Picture his black hair, bowl-cut, bangs just a half inch above the eyebrows, brown eyes shining out from the darkness of his face. Thin jacket, thin frame. Then comes wind and rain along with the voice of a teacher shouting “get back here this instant.”
He climbs the fence, over and down to begin a determined march to a point unknown. Grownups scramble to respond, but in the seven minutes it takes to get organized, we fear that anything might happen. He heads toward alleys between apartments across the street. These alleys are known for random gunfire and illicit transactions.
Within him, something wants to connect. It becomes my responsibility to bolt after him, snag him by the hood of his thin jacket, turn him around, and march him back to the school. As he squirms, he gets a loud lecture about the knuckle-headed prank he just pulled. I ask him, where did you plan to go? Over the bridge? And then where? I conclude with something like – you have no idea!
His vision quest will have to wait.
When I tell my friend Puanani Burgess about boys like this one, she wants me to share more. OK, so he is stubborn and won’t speak to you. What else? He scares you when he runs off. I understand. Now, tell me this. If I put it to you, could you name even one of his gifts? What do you know about him? I’m putting it to you right now. Tell me something about him other than how he makes you feel.
She has worked for years with families on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in the town of Waianae. Lots of hard journeys but lots of cloud breaks, too. She has plenty of stories about kids like mine, setting off angry and confused, no inkling of what drives them out and no clue about where they might be heading. She might tease me by asking – so what would happen if didn’t stop him? Could you keep him safe, but still just let him go?
I know that I can’t. I stop little boys all the time when they get steam-headed ideas to head out on their own. I know they are not ready for the big walks, but I also know they will not become ready until they fall. Truth is strong medicine, but too much, too soon, can kill. I see how these points conflict.
When I see him next week, his need to walk will remain. And the moment – the right moment – will have to wait, patient, quiet. Then, he will some day step out, no one to stop him. The less he holds back, the more efficient the truth will be in providing a complete lesson. Nothing will be wasted. So my big wish for him is that his walk may bring him beginnings of courage, wings that unfold, or maybe just a simple chance to know how lucky he is to be able to walk in such a remarkable, ineffable time.