At times, the hilltop itself speaks to me. Monday morning, for example, when I walked through the school’s front archway before sunrise, I spotted an epigram engraved into the stone above: “Education is bitter but the fruit is sweet.” How had I missed it? The engraving had to be as old as the building itself. Then, a chill wind whipped and shoved me just inside the doorway. There, I paused a second time.
“Hmmm. I’m listening.” I said to the brick walls and the worn tile floor.
I approached the center stairway and paused once more. A loud male voice rose from downstairs. I made rapid descent, and whooshed into the first floor hallway. Lights out, still dark. I moved on, pushing open two back doors that exited the building. There, on the wet asphalt of an empty play yard, I found a child, Raymond, and his father, Lucas. Father towered over son. A tense exchange appeared imminent:
I heard these shouted words: “What the hell were you doing? You got no brains, boy? Can’t you just think for once?” I saw father raise index and middle finger. He took aim as if to make blunt impact on the boy’s forehead. I moved to intervene:
“Gentlemen, how might I help you this morning?”
When father heard me, he froze and dropped hands to his side. The two stood still, boy looking down, and father looking away. Lucas left the yard, and Raymond watched him go as pre-dawn wind blew back the boy’s big head of curly hair. Raymond shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, shivering in his big flannel shirt.
“Come on in till the bell rings. Too early to be out here, Raymond.”
I held the door for him as we both went inside. As we climbed the stairs, I saw that he wore no socks and his sneakers had holes in the heels. “Anything you want to tell me, son?” asked I, just once. I hoped that he might speak to me. He, however, remained silent as we turned from stairway into the bright office fluorescents.
I could find no rules that Raymond adhered to, no guidelines that helped me to direct him, and no vessel able to contain the energy he brought. On a given day, he might sing in the midst of an exam, decide to put ketchup down the back of Carmen’s pants, lick Edgar’s face, or jump from table to table in the lunch room. No matter the shape of the box, he had way of breaking free from that which bound him.
Yes, father yelled at his boy and raised his hand. I, too fell to a short list of blunt words in my attempts to break through. Raymond continued to run wild, regardless. To borrow from a poet named David Whyte, his life appeared driven by momentum against which we have no defense.
I watched and wished for guidance to help him find footing when the right time came. No stigmas and no judgment. Instead, I thought about the goats that used to roam this hilltop and the fruit trees that once grew here. Might it be that sweet fruit can arise from a day that starts this way? Not only the bitter and hard-pitted plums? And might that sweeter fruit need nothing more than time and patience to ripen, nurtured by a gentler hand?
Just these thoughts I took with me as sunrise chased away night, and boy and I made room for another day.