I found him in the most unexpected way: sitting on his haunches in the front yard, staring into a bowl of rocks in dirty water. "I don't know if I'll ever discover anything," he said. I looked at him, wondering if I had really heard him speak, and if he was, in fact, speaking to me.
He was blonde with blue eyes and looked to be about 11, slim, with a young boy's irrefutable energy. He was indeed talking to me, so I stopped to listen.
He wanted to be a discoverer and an inventor, he said, while continuing to wash his rocks in the bowl in front of him. But it was hard because he wasn't sure what he wanted to invent (or discover) and he wasn't sure where to start.
He had talked for only a few minutes, and I could see that he was different somehow from other boys, but if pressed, I couldn't really say how. It wasn't only that most young boys wouldn't talk to passing ladies as they walked by; it was what he was saying, and how he was saying it.
I dimly remembered seeing this boy once or twice when he was much younger on this same street, talking with passers by while his grandparents looked on, smiling. And though I could be wrong about him being "different" in some way, I don't think I am. It matters and doesn't, at the same time, I guess, but for me, I guess, it added rather than detracted from the experience of talking with him.
He talked a little more about discoveries and then I heard him say something about things working out for the best. I told him I needed to hear that right then, and his eyes widened in concern. "Why? Did something bad happen?" he asked.
Just hearing his question and seeing his face made me want to cry for a moment. There were all kinds of things going on, some of which were making me sad, but I knew how wrong it would be to share any of them with this young boy. So instead I said, "No, but it's been a rough winter."
He nodded, and said, "Yes, a lot of people are saying that," which made me smile. He then offered me a rock, which he decided was OK to do because even though he mostly gave rocks to neighbors, the fact that I was walking in his neighborhood meant I had to live somewhat close by, right?
Right, I said, and selected a brown and white rock that reminded me of rocks I'd collected obsessively in my own childhood. My son collected rocks at this age, too, so taking the rock felt like a way to connect to him as well,
I thanked the boy and he said several other encouraging things, and then returned to the subject of discovery. "I want to discover a lot of things, but not everything, because I want other people to come after me and discover stuff too," he said. I agreed this was a very considerate idea, and soon afterwards, he returned to washing rocks and I to my walk.
Remembering this today I am also remembering what I wanted to tell him (but did not because I thought it would sound too odd): that he was truly, completely extraordinary, and whatever he discovered would matter less to the world than the fact that he was in it.
Boy: Christopher Michel
Boy 2: Chris Bickham