His parents recognized his potential from childhood. Teachers delighted in him: the perfect student, quiet, attentive, and bright. He soaked up the words of encouragement and praise then read more and studied harder. It was logical: Everyone knew he would succeed, so he did.
He became a teacher; not just any teacher, but a college professor; not just any professor, but the youngest one to earn tenure at the best college in the country. His mentors told him how proud they were of his accomplishments. Sometimes he wondered if their pride were not so much in him as it was in how well they had succeeded because he was a success.
To every mortal question, he had an answer, accompanied by a logical, and detailed explanation.
Thus, he molded the minds of a generation. He published eloquent papers, and wrote a highly acclaimed book. His colleagues praised him in his presence. He was not so naďve as to think that they sang the same tune in his absence. Students dropped his name onto job applications and tossed it into bragging sessions with barroom buddies, using it as though it were a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. He often wondered if they remembered what had been taught as well as they remembered the name of the teacher.
Somewhere in the midst of all the adulation, he made his parents prouder and raised his status in his world yet another notch. He married. Two wives completed their respective contracts, passing through his life like ferries groping for safe harbor in the fog. He was certain he had spoken to them often. They had talked to him; he just couldn’t remember what had been said. In the face of illogical failure, he closed his already shriveled heart, and smothered love.
Seasons passed, measured in a new crop of eager freshmen, exams, spring breaks, and graduations. At his publisher’s urging, almost independent of his own conscious thought and certainly of his soul, a second book flickered into pseudo-life on his laptop.
One morning in November — some might say by chance, he couldn’t get his car started. Since he was hopelessly inept at basic mechanics he quickly abandoned any urge to frustrate himself by tinkering under the hood. Rather than be late for his first class by calling, and then waiting for the car and driver his position merited, he decided to take the city bus.
Unseeing, he stared out of the window as houses, sidewalks and streetlights flashed by. His restless mind lightly dozed, unguarded. The bus pulled up at a stop near the university to allow a mother and her young child to climb aboard. He paid scant attention to them as they took the vacant seats opposite to his.
Lazy flakes of snow began to fall; he made a mental note to have his secretary call and reserve a car for the drive home tonight.
A cheery little voice startled him.
“Mommy, look, it’s snowing!”
Perhaps it was the foreign sound of a child’s voice that pulled him back from the emptiness of absent thoughts. He turned his head and looked across at the bright, pink-cheeked joy written all over the face of the little girl. Her eyes sparkled as she clapped her mittened hands. His attention produced a sudden shyness in the child and she leaned into her mother’s chest, turning her face away. The woman whispered in her little one’s ear.
“And what do you say?”
With unexpected boldness, the child looked back at him with a pure gaze that penetrated deep into his soul.
“Thank you, Jesus.”
And he heard another voice. It rose above all the others with which he had filled his life, tossing them aside. It touched him in a place where deep feeling and true understanding had never before been granted access. He had trusted logic and knowledge. He had taught others to trust them. This child trusted what she couldn’t see and could barely know or understand. The purity of that faith defied his logic and cracked open the wall surrounding the God-sized hole in his heart.
The child had become a teacher: the teacher was becoming a child.
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children … I tell you the truth, unless you change and become as a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 11:25; 18:3 NIV
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