Jordan just turned ten. He is my height. He has a round, soft face, dark brown skin, and a button nose. I have known him for two years and have never seen his face twist in anger nor have I heard him spit out an unkind word.
When my friend, Mr. Charles Tucker from Mississippi, visited Jordan’s classroom about a month ago, he met Jordan. Mr. Tucker shared stories about boyhood on the Delta – about how one race treated another at that time, about separate water fountains, sitting in the backs of buses, and strange fruit dangling on hot summer nights. He didn’t want to push too hard. Nonetheless, his stories all rolled out fresh as the here and now.
During the subsequent question and answer, Jordan’s eye’s locked onto Mr. Tucker’s. The boy asked his elder “Tell me what makes one man unkind to another? I don’t understand what would make anyone want to be mean.”
Mr. Tucker looked at me and I tossed it back to him. “The question was directed to you, sir.” And Mr. Tucker said, “Son, that is a very thoughtful question. What makes you think to ask a question like that? Thank you, Jordan. Has anyone told you that you may be a philosopher?”
Philosopher. The boy asked for a definition. Mr. Tucker told him that a philosopher was one whose thoughts flowed in the deepest water, coming to the surface only when the time was right.
Jordan beamed the way a child beams when he gets seen.
When we left the room, his teacher whispered to me, “He has never said a word in class. That’s the first time I’ve heard his voice. I don’t know what to think.”
Since that day a few weeks ago, I, too, have paid closer attention to this ten year-old.
So, yesterday, when Jordan and his friend walked past me on the upper playground, the boy appeared thoughtful. I tugged his sleeve and asked “How you doing, young man? What’s on your mind today? Any wisdom you might want to share before the day gets rolling?” He paused, took a breath, gazed up at a pair of clouds circling the yard and said that he would “get back” to me.
“No problem, young man. I can wait.”
And with that, he departed, leaning on his friend’s shoulder, whispering into the other boy’s ear, giggling. Words might come and they might not. Neither he nor I knew when, nor from where.
Wisdom is like that, hiding its sources, feigning smallness. However, one can’t drop a quarter into a wandering philosopher’s skull and expect gold nuggets to roll off the tongue. It rolls as it pleases, slow and steady, a surprise that pops into words, wet, shimmering and churning up from far below the surface. Stunning when at last it comes to light.
Now, my turn to whisper a few questions:
Where do philosophers come from? Ones who can call up shining, essential insights? When the words come, how can one tell truth from fibs? Could this boy be one of those rare ones? Stuck as we are, I look for a day when someone just like this boy might survive to summon bold truths that can shine light on another way.
Might it be you, Jordan? Might you be someone just like that? I’ll have to wait to find out.