A few weeks ago Sean and I went to the local science and history museum — not so much in a quest for science or history, but more in a quest for an air-conditioned change of scenery. By big city standards, the museum is really kind of a rinky dink place, but we like our dink on the rinky side, so it suits us just fine.
The main attraction (for us) is not the Imax Theater or the exhibits, but the free children’s play space in the basement where they have a miniature grocery store that the wee ones enjoy looting. There is also a fishing boat, water table, telephones, cars and that kind of thing – a little pretend town. Sean really digs that kind of thing. I kind of do too.
In the midst of all that kiddy goodness, there is a little open frame house that is stocked with foam bricks. Sean and some other kids his size were busy in a cooperative effort to stack the bricks in the windows and open spaces when along comes a boy in a wheelchair. He is pale and thin. He is as bald as a baby bird. It is obvious to me that he is a cancer patient. Sean doesn’t notice that he is bald or in a wheel chair or that there is anything unusual about him at all.
The boy leans out of his wheel chair and picks up a few of the foam bricks off the floor and flings them through the window of the house, accurately toppling the bricks that the other children had so carefully arranged.
The bricks tumble into a heap inside the house. Sean thinks this is funny. He cackles loudly and then lobs a brick back at the boy in the wheelchair and then resumes frantically laying brick again before the big bad wolf shows up.
The boy pulls himself out of his chair, dragging a colostomy bag behind him. For some reason it is the sight of the colostomy bag that pitches my stomach into my throat. My heart swells and throbs with sympathy for the boy and his parents and every sick child in the universe. Vinegary tasting fear waters up in my mouth — it could just as easily be my boy in that wheelchair.
I watch this wisp of a boy struggle out of his chair and then park himself on the floor in a pile of foam bricks outside the house. Delicate toothpick arms launch brick after brick up into the frame house, clearly in an effort to destroy what the other children are building.
Sean still thinks this is funny. Normally he would come to me crying and whining and complaining of the injustice of it all. But today he just giggles and occasionally throws a brick or two back at the boy. It’s a curious phenomenon.
As I watch the children in the house furiously trying to keep pace with the work of restoration, my amusement veers sharply left towards frustration. He is being obnoxious and I find it puzzling. I don’t realize I’m watching him a little too intently.
I’m jarred away from a morose and morbid thought when I’m bonked on the head with a flying brick. I turn my attention from the boy to the source of the brick. My boy is leaning out the window and laughing at me. He is the source of the brick. He is the source of my joy. My heart swells again, but for a different reason.
The flying brick has given me a moment of clarity. I return my gaze to the bald headed boy. It makes sense. If your life were falling down around you, wouldn’t you want to tear everything down too — if for no other reason than just to taste a tiny bit of control? My sympathy towards the boy in the wheel chair melts into a puddle of admiration. And I can’t explain it.
Eventually, the kids grow tired of building and run away to other things. Sean and I move on to other distractions as well. Later, I see that the boy has pulled himself up into the house. He looks so small and alone. I wonder if that is how he feels. It’s how I feel.
That day, the world continued to spin and spiral along it’s ancient path in the flurry and spray of cosmic chaos, oblivious if not indifferent to pain and injustice and flying bricks. And I can’t explain that either.