My school sits on top of a rock hill. On top of that rock, a playground. On top of the playground, a play structure. If you scramble up the ladder that ascends the play structure, you can stand tall over bay, boats, and the shipyards that extend for miles. So yesterday, the last day of school, I headed out the back gate to descend the hill and looked back up to take in the end-of-year moment.
That’s when I noticed Isaiah.
He had climbed to the top of the structure and now had his eyes pointed east down a stretch of dry wheat grass that leaned toward the bay. I saw no one else on the playground. Grown-ups had all vacated so by five PM, only Isaiah, I, and a couple of drifters just down the hill remained. The crown of Isaiah’s head, because of where he had climbed, had now become the highest point on the hill.
Rail thin, unhinged, rag-tag, regal. I saw all of these things in a boy I had passed before without noticing. Though he had to have seen me standing nearby, no matter. He put in a pair of ear-buds and entered a time, realm and reason of his own. He pulled off his t-shirt, and swung it over his head. At his back, the low, sinking sun back-lit his silhouette in smoky orange. Then he started to sing.
I can’t wait to be king!
No one saying do this
No one saying be there
No one saying stop that
No one saying see here
Free to run around all day
Free to do it all my way
Beyond the singing, the pulse of drums flew from within him. He danced with nothing but air to hold onto. He wriggled his fifty-pounds, flashed big teeth, pumped twilight air into his bony rib cage, and kept on even after his trousers slipped and he lost a shoe. He went at it with such abandon, I caught myself wondering – Had he gone over to the other side? Did his mother know where he was? Would he be OK?
I decided to let his song speak for him. I would take him at his word – that Isaiah could not wait to be king.
I wish for many things. For example, that every boy (and every girl) at least once might know the expanse of arms outstretched, and the glee of full flight. Just once to stand on top, cloud kissing, singing out as if nobody cared and everyone craved. Might I even wish such a moment for myself? Or for everyone else?
Half way gone and still not yet. Not quite.
As I continued downhill, I laughed a bit. Up above, Isaiah kept singing. Drifters still waited and I joined them at the stop as the bus pulled up. Three of us stepped onto the bus together. When the door closed, I listened into the quiet. I studied my seat before I sat down and then took my place next to the scratch-tagged window. The ride home would take a half hour.
Oh to be king of a rocky hill, guarded by grass, open from all sides, ruler of a song, protected from nothing, obligated by no one, liberated from the second guess. In command of my words and free in my thoughts. At peace and at one with the full-on and resolute in whatever steps I choose.
Not yet. But, I know that my time – our time – will come.