From across the playground, I could see a pack of fourth graders encircling a boy named Tobias. They barked at him and he barked back.

“You’re out, man. You’re out.”
“I’m not out. You lie.”

Still more boys joined the ring around him, hollering. Tobias stuck to his post at second base. He stood in the middle of the painted square growing redder. Even when they took to calling him cry baby, telling him to go home or call his mom, he did not move. As I approached, I spat out some blunt commands.

“Back up. Move on. Game over.”

Before I could get too close, however, Tobias ran. As he zipped off, I did a quick check-in with one of his classmates for the back story: someone threw a wobbly kick ball that smacked Tobias’ backside. That smack knocked the non-event to an electric level. When Tobias figured out that the laughter had his name on it, he lost it.

As I went after him, I reviewed what I remembered from our previous encounters: tall kid, pale skinned, gifted in math, had a stutter, ran faster and showed more agility than many of the other boys. A myth followed him too; that he had once sling-shot a pigeon from the top of a telephone pole, dropping it to the ground. Most of all, however, I knew about his temper which other boys used to set him up weekly.

In the old monkey trap fable a critter slips his hand into a cage hole, grabs a banana, but, because he makes a fist, he can’t get his hand free. And because he wants the banana, he will not relax the fist. For Tobias, this kind of trap played out when he had to back down. If he was wrong and got called on it, he could not yield.

And, he had stamina!

In the fable, the monkey dies. For Tobias, he would not quit. On five occasions, he stood in fist-clenched rage, refusing to vacate a base after he got tagged out.

“I’m not out. I’m not moving.”

On this day, he had run toward an eight foot wall where he waited, fists clenched. I stepped between him and the wall, face-to-face. That’s when I saw his eyes. Gray and clear as water. I could see in past the stubborn to someplace way inside this boy. Still, silent, and saying “Help!”

What next?

Traps cause critters to chew through into their own soft tissue and draw blood as they struggle to pull free. The toughest come away scarred when they do come away. For this boy standing tall might not prove an easy catch.

All moments end. The wait can last a while, however. I kept him in my sights, stuck and strong, and felt him working through whatever went on inside. I stood there hoping he could see abundant mercy and graceful exists all around.

The hardest trap is this the kind we set out for ourselves. In time, he yielded to tears. For tomorrow, still too soon to tell.


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3 Responses to Trap

  1. Em October 30, 2013 at 11:09 am #


  2. Steve October 30, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    This was a good one and described the difference between my oldest brother and me. I knew when to back down and fight another day. He never did.

    These are great, Greg.

  3. Kate October 30, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Wow, mercy me. Just recently, I was wondering if your “Notes . . . “ had been put on hold due to your new consulting schedule and . . . voila, here you are! This grateful reader is once again struck by your gift of presenting such rich and visceral moments.

    Yes, I believe it is too early to tell. So many things contribute to a moment like this: shame, snarling rage, revenge all leading to a cognitive brick wall. I don’t think the brain can parallel process these feelings with sound logic let alone self-control. He was lucky that you intervened between that brick wall to snap him out of that rage (or not). It’s a potent chemical cocktail that some people can learn to control while others can’t. You, at least, showed him an option – real and human.


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