For why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would?
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892): Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur. Line 13ff.
I first met Walter on a sultry, southern day with humidity so thick you could feel the wetness on your skin. He was lying in the dirt on the playground amidst a circle of screaming boys, them cheering every time he tried to stand and failed. Every attempt to arise was met with a push from one of the circling observers. I did not notice the steel framework embracing both of Walter’s legs. I was new to Robert E. Lee Elementary School and did not yet know the rules, those rules which applied whenever the teachers were around the corner and out of sight.
Rushing into the circle, the first blow was clumsily applied, as a child would deliver, but clenched fist met the soft flesh of a face and soon the circle decided that they had other things to do. They were older but I was bigger than they were, after all, and size on the playground has its own rules.
Walter. What a unusual creature. He was an optimist in a lattice of steel. We made a decision that day. We were now friends. Whenever we were set free for recess we went out together. Walter had talents of which I had never dreamed, but somehow now envied. He could crack rocks in the hinges of his leg braces. He had perfect hair which he combed with bacon grease, kept in a can on the kitchen stove. We had no cans of bacon grease for our hair at my house.
I remember not wanting to miss school because Walter might need me, the circle was always waiting for another moment of weakness and opportunity. Walter told me he had something called Polio which was why he needed braces to walk. I had never heard of such a mysterious thing. I still remember Walter and his distinctive braced-leg run as he swept past the monkey bars and stopped under the great tree that stretched as high as we could see. Every day is better when you share it with a friend.
After some time our family moved away and I went to a new school and left the creaking wooden floors of Robert E. Lee Elementary behind. I lost track of Walter. I made new friends but none had the aura of Walter. No more special abilities or mysterious concoctions. Everyone was just like everyone else.
I think about my friend from time to time. I hope he is well. I hope he knows the Lord Jesus Who so wonderfully changed my life. I am sure Walter has faced other circles in his journey. Though childhood memories have faded I still feel the burning anger at the circle, and the smug satisfaction of the solution. I hope I see my friend again someday. I have one more story to share with him. I want to tell him that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That would be our best day ever.
P.S. Walter, there are no rocks in heaven . . . so you won’t need your leg braces.