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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


The Football

-------There are always little occurrences from our past which stand out in our minds; events so trivial, yet so very powerful. It seems that the deeper we feel the emotions associated with that instant and all it represents, the deeper the event becomes ingrained in our memories. I experienced one such event when I was a small child, riding in the back seat of the family car on the way to my grandmother's sewing shop.
-------We passed through a neighborhood whose residents were obviously living in economic conditions well below our own modest existence. As we wheeled through the neighborhood, I noticed an adolescent boy sitting on a stone wall just ahead of us. His head was bowed toward the ground and he appeared to be holding something in his lap. As we passed him, I saw a tear roll down his cheek. The item he was holding was a football that had been flattened, perhaps by a passing motorist.
-------My heart leaped out to him and I was immediately overcome with an empathetic sadness. I projected many conditions onto the image I saw. This was surely one of the few possessions the boy owned. This was probably his prized possession and the source of the vast majority of his joy. And finally, he was obviously well short of the resources necessary to replace the ball.
-------Part of me wanted to race home, get my football, and return it to the boy. Another voice inside me told me to point out the scene to my family, in hopes that my father would take us to buy him another or would stop and see about repairing his. But the reality of the situation found me sitting alone, inside myself. I said nothing. I did nothing. Quickly, I rationalized all the reasons I failed to help the boy in need. By the time I could get another ball to him, he'd surely have gone inside. I didn't know who he was or were he lived. If I gave him my ball, what guarantee did I have that it would be replaced? My father was sure to have come up with several sound reasons why we couldn't come to his aid. "The boy probably has another," . . . "he'll learn a valuable lesson from this," . . . "he wouldn't appreciate it as much if we just gave him another." Our mission was to arrive at Grandmother's shop, not to pass out footballs to the needy. When given the choice of "righting" a condition we perceive as wrong, or rationalizing our reason not to do so, more often than not our energies go toward the rationalization.
-------That day carried on, probably not unlike any other day, with insignificant events stringing together endlessly to make up our experience. But sometimes I wonder why my father even drove us through that neighborhood. In all our journeys to Grandmother's shop, this was the only time we went off the usual path. And why is the image of that boy sitting on the wall so indelible in my mind? At times the memory becomes painful and I once again return to my imagination in hopes of rationalizing my apathy. Once I conjured up a fantasy in which the boy I had seen sitting on the wall in his youth grew up to be one of the professional football stars I watch on Sunday afternoons. I envisioned him handing out footballs in impoverished neighborhoods all across the nation; fueled by the memory of the day he lost his prized possession.
-------Why, after so much water has passed under so many bridges, do I see him so vividly in my memory? Often this question raises a far bigger question. Today there are many boys in many neighborhoods living with situations far worse than I witnessed that afternoon. There are countless young children without footballs, and still more concerned about the lack of things far more essential than playthings. If the memory of that afternoon is so persistent, why is it that I continue to say nothing, to do nothing?

© 2004 - The Trill House