Pretend

RunnerPretending  creates a dividing line – real as a rock on one side, paired with somewhat squishier realities on the other. I used to think I knew where to draw that line, but I used to think a lot of things. Today during morning recess, my thoughts got a shove from a third grade boy named Khalil.

Recess started with a tag game – chasing, hiding, and time-outs, the usual. Then, the game kicked up a notch when two of the boys claimed they could fly. Another said he could freeze people with just a touch. Game on!  To the top of the play structure, under benches, behind a row of shrubs. A few broke off from the rest to build a fort. On it went.

Meanwhile, on this side of the time-space continuum, play time came to a close. Ms. Keith rang the hand bell. Kick balls whooshed into ball bags, lines formed behind line leaders, and the playground fantasia approached the final notes.

Then, I saw Khalil.

This brown-eyed dreamer stayed twenty feet from the next nearest child, high-kicking and low-punching invisible phantoms, blocking unseen jabs from the left and right. At last he froze in his ready stance, facing me. Ms. Keith approached, scooting him away from his flying foes and down steps, toward the building.

I walked part of the way to his classroom and saw that even indoors Khalil did not re-integrate. Ms. Keith whispered calming closers: Of course dear. Oh my. How scary. Shush, shush. They’re all gone now. I’m glad you’re back. She winked at me as she closed her classroom door.

So much for Khalil’s little adventure.

My teachers used to call me a day dreamer. And even though they meant the label as a dunning, my mother backed me up. She told a family story about my grandmother who had visions now and then. She was one powerful pretender, my mother explained. In her visions, she traveled everywhere. She crossed seas, learned secrets, knew spells, and chanted to the invisible. The longer the journey, the better the ride – her only rule.

Sometimes, the things that grandmother saw had a way of coming true. “Just remember that, honey. You might be like her.”

Where teachers wanted to tether me – “Pay attention! You’ll never go anywhere dreaming!” – I wanted to fly, to meet people with visions like mine, and to see beyond seeing. I sought confirmation from somewhere – anywhere. At night, I lay flat and stared into the starry vastness. I watched for signs.  Was someone out there trying to reach me? How would I know for sure?

In that instant when I stood face-to-face with a boy accused of practicing an excess of make-believe, my boyhood came back. I faced myself and wondered how much Khalil had already figured out.  Did he have anyone to talk to or did he carry his visions all alone?

Yes, Khalil, I want you to pay attention, but to what you see. Not so much what you’re told to see. Seek, get lost, dream and discover. You might come back empty handed. But you might return with an answer or two, connections we had failed to see, or tales of the bold, uncanny realms on the other side of the line.

Be brave and go far. Hopes rely on wonders that at first only a dreamer sees.

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