With bangs chopped just above his water-blue eyes, Eric sported a near perfect blond bowl. Beyond this bit of flash, a second fact stood out – that he had conned twenty-two other second graders out of hundreds of dollars. Maybe more. Some weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of his operation. Rapid movement caught my eye as this boy sat at a round table in the library surrounded by a ring of attentive second graders. I observed for a minute as Eric swept his left hand over the table, tossing out a scattering of bright glass gems. Walla!, said he. Walla! I paused to look, but Eric swept the sparkling show back into a little black bag. Must follow up, said I to myself. I then walked onto the next table.
Fast forward to two weeks later. I sat in my office and became aware that someone was watching me. There stood another toe head named Luke. Next to him stood his mother. His red eyes told me he had been crying. Mother looked other than pleased.
Luke, tell the principal what happened to your twenty dollars.
Luke pulled out a small nylon pouch. He rattled out the contents – bright glass rocks that sparkled on my table. What are these, I asked. Magic crystals, Luke told me. I bought them from Eric. Mom sneered. Then came the tale of the magic crystals that brought you what you wished for. Still, you had to have all of the colors for the best results. And, the bonus secret spell would cost you five dollars extra. Luke had bought the total package.
After the hang-dog confession, mom demanded that the operation be stopped, spat out a couple of well-I-nevers and stomped out to her next pressing appointment. Luke remained, looking at me, eyes huge as they had been the day I noticed him among other second graders at the table in the library.. . Luke, I’ll see whether I can get your money back, OK? . . .He stood there, still looking, not budging. . .You have to promise not to tell my mom this. Yes, Luke? These crystals work. They really are magic. I swear. No. Really. Do you believe me?
He told me how everything had changed since he bought the gems – that the kids in his class now liked him and that they had stopped being mean to him. Then, I followed up, grilling Eric, who, for his part, told me about an old clown-faced guy on the wharf who sold him the glittering rocks. The guy had made sure that Eric knew about their powers. Little guy, said the clown, sometimes you just gotta believe.
Eric shut his business down but I kept an eye on things over the next few days. And, I saw that something had changed – Luke, for example, sat with other children though before he had sat all alone. And more, I heard him telling jokes, and other children laughing at his jokes – not at him. How could this be?
Whenever the traveling salesmen show up on the edge of town, we usher the children inside, whisper time-worn warnings, and hustle to bar the doors. But, when I started this work, I promised not to crush the wide-eyed dreams of children. Everything that is possible resides within these unlikely dreams. A dream, a hope, or a wish – all three of these crack open just-the-facts blindness and let light in. Yes, Eric – and then Luke – got gamed, but they came away prospecting in the improbable. We can’t keep the doors shut all the time. Trick me into growing a bigger heart and a freer mind – I will buy those rocks every time.