details and structure, God is faithful and John knew it, growing up, Johnny and Frankie, night time prayer, photographic mind, security at home, the appreciated do-gooders, the school yard, understanding at different levels
Johnny’s mom and dad lived in a section of town known by both its inhabitants and others as lower class, both economically and vocationally. They weren’t living there due to having lost their jobs which in turn caused them to foreclose on a nice home in one of the upscale neighborhoods. Rather, Jim and Renee were in the neighborhood where they themselves were raised. In that sense they were at home in Residence Park, their neighborhood.
Jim and Renee were known as generous and caring of other folks’ needs in Residence Park. They were aware that some of their neighbors sometimes referred to them as “do-gooders.” But, usually that comment was said with a touch of appreciation for Jim and Renee. The fact is that although Johnny’s parents did not have very much to share with others, they were not at all stingy with their goods, their time, nor their love for neighbors and relatives. Johnny was raised in that environment, considering it to be “natural.”
During his early years in school, Johnny was learning that the parents of many of his playmates were not as kind as were his parents. Frankie was one of Johnny’s close friends, and occasionally Frankie talked about what happened behind the closed doors of his house. After they talked, it was hard for Johnny to imagine what it would be like to hear parents cursing at each other or ignoring each other. Johnny would get pains in his chest and belly when Frankie talked about his parents sometimes fighting and hitting each other. Sometimes, Frankie told Johnny, he had little to eat at home because his parents first served themselves generously, and then gave the children the little that was left over. John couldn’t help but ask himself, “that’s not fair, is it? My parents would never do that.” When Johnny got home after these kind of talks with Frankie, he sensed the peace of his parents once he opened the front door and got a kiss from his mom, Renee. Later that night, the prayer and “Love you, honey” before the light was turned off reinforced the calm security of life with Dad, Mom, and God.
At school, Johnny loved being surrounded by laughter during the outdoor recesses with squealing children as they played on the teeter totters or on the monkey bars. He loved the intensity of playing dodge ball or football in the fall’s brisk temperatures. Watching girls playing jacks with smiles and concentration on their faces, and then laughing loudly when they did well – all that brought happiness to Johnny. He loved playing tag, except when he tripped and skinned a knee. At the same time Johnny was learning that the school time fun and joy was only part of the picture. The other part of the picture was dark and heavy. He was learning that from his classmates’ sad stories of their home life.
As Johnny and his friends slowly matured, he noticed his friends’ tendency of taking on their parents’ characteristics, both the good and the bad. Johnny observed how a number of his childhood chums were slowly becoming less happy, less outgoing, more secretive about their home life, less willing to share their toys. They were beginning to “count the cost” of the decisions they were making, the cost to themselves of being kind and gracious. They were beginning to protect their psychological turf, wanting a secure place to where they could retreat when things were getting nasty in the neighborhood.
During these years of childhood, Johnny was blessed, so his parents described it, as having a good mind. He learned facts quickly. It seemed that he hardly needed but just a moment to solve a problem. That was noticeable, for example, with the infamous “word problems” in his math classes. When doing homework, Jim and Renee saw that he “instinctively” was able to eliminate the superfluous parts of the problem and focus on only the parts relevant to the question posed. He was showing discriminatory ability, doing what Jim called “cutting to the chase.”
Johnny’s memory was so good that Jim and Renee wondered among themselves if it was photographic. Of course, they didn’t have money for any kind of evaluation, but the teachers’ comments on the report cards sometimes referred to his unusual memory. They only knew that Johnny simply did not forget anything. When Renee was taking Johnny to visit a friend on the other side of town, and she was not sure whether she should turn left or right as a particular intersection, John always knew the right way. When memorizing part of a skit for a class presentation, John knew it after reading it only once or twice. He simply didn’t forget things.
A number of years later, after completing the formal education he and his family could afford, John got a job with a software company. His ability, being able to lay out the digital procedures for a particular program to function well and accomplish its goal, became well known. John could “see” the different levels of a task, or a problem. He didn’t brag about it, nor publicize his abilities. He was simply being himself. He knew he was not typical, but he accepted that as one of God’s gifts.
His mind would periodically return to what it was like being raised by parents who were free with their limited goods. They gave. They thought of others. They didn’t complain about what they lacked. They lived for others. And, they were joyful, even when others didn’t understand how they could be so nice. John would, upon reflection, say to himself, “Why live any other way? Dad and Mom showed me how.”
John’s story is that of a person who could see that many issues of life have different levels. Other folk may not realize that what is generally seen as “real” life is not the only thing that is. John had learned that underneath the particulars and the details, a structure held those particulars and details in place. When John addressed a problem, he looked for the structure that was involved. When John proposed solutions to problems, he was thinking in terms of both the integrating and supporting structure/structures as well. Knowing them allowed the details to fall into place.
Sometimes, other folk understood John’s solutions and explanations. Frequently, they didn’t because they didn’t see beyond the details and had no interest beyond the answer to the particular question. So, John lived “smart”, he thought well, and life didn’t take him by surprise. God was faithful, and John knew it. There were some things about God that John didn’t understand and didn’t know. But what he did know and understand became more and more solid as time went on. He only wished others could capture why life wasn’t an unsolvable puzzle.
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