The Fallen


Not much credit is given to boys for having any sense of caring about the stuff of life.

We are most often portrayed as beat 'em up, dirty them up, push and shove creatures that find more joy in a fight than a flower.

We have our moments.

It was Spring of 1959. Winter had produced the kind of snowfalls that now provide an arsenal of great stories I hope to one day share with my own grandchildren. You know, the ones that begin with, "I can remember when I was a kid, snow fell so deep we lost the dog until Spring!"

Or some other great exaggeration.

We had been inside a bit too much that year so we welcomed the chance to go back up into the woods nearby and play the games that ignited the imagination of a young boy.

We were running, climbing, digging and tapping into energy we forgot we had that day.

The back alleys and paths to the park were lined with dozens of kids. As welcoming as it was, it also created some tense moments as older boys laid claim to small patches of land and tree top perches we often used to our advantage when playing war games.

My friends and I were on our way to our favorite stomping ground when we were confronted by a small group of boys who lived a few blocks away from our neighborhood. Upon our approach, we could see them plotting and planning some type of harassment.

We kept our heads up, kicked off the dirt from our sneakers and ran like lightening through the narrow pass in an effort to avoid any problems.

I sighed relief as I slowed down catching my breath and counting my blessings for having made it without trouble.

But that wasn't good enough. At that age there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. We paused, turned around and shouted some taunting words of wisdom..."Na, na. Na, na na! You didn't scare us!"

War erupted. Not the war of men but the battles fought with sticks and stones tossed aimlessly back and forth between young boys. No one was ever seriously hurt, but the scars of small nicks and bruises served well for weeks afterwards as we gathered and shared stories of how hard we fought before.

The dust had settled, we called each other "sissy" names and went on about our business that day. Well, most of us did.

Heading on to the park, I happened to notice that one of my friends was not with us.

"Where's Jimmy?" I asked.

"I dunno. Back there somewhere," someone said.

"You guys go ahead. I'll go find him."

I returned to the spot where we earlier had done battle with the gang from the other side. Jimmy was nowhere to be found.

Scanning the area, I ventured off into the small overgrowth areas looking behind rocks and up in the trees hoping to find him.

Suddenly I heard the sound of someone whimpering.

"Jimmy, is that you?" I shouted.

Again I could hear someone sniffling and crying softly.

As I turned I saw him seated on the ground leaning against a huge oak tree. His head was bowed and he struggled to wipe tears from his face. Boys don't cry. Being caught with tears on your face is a scar never goes away.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Ya, I'm...I'm okay," he replied.

"Did you get hit?"

"No, I didn't. I didn't get hit, but it did," he said.

Then raising his hands toward me, I saw a small bird he held gently.

"Is he dead?" I asked.

"I think so."

"How do you know he got hit?"

Then looking up he went on to tell me what he had seen. Apparently, in a hail of rocks thrown by the other boys, he had just stood up to return fire when, in what appeared to be a slow motion movie-like moment, he saw a rock "the size of a boulder" (we love to exaggerate) headed his way.

"Bob, I could see it coming at me straight into my eye," he recounted.

"Then, what happened?"

"He took the hit for me," he said.

"What?"

"In a split second, I saw the bird on the branch to my left and the rock headed my way. Just like that, the bird took off and jumped from the branch right in front of the rock. Pow! I fell to the ground and he landed right in front of my face."

Jimmy began stroking the bird he held and tears pooled in the corner of his eyes once more.

"Ah, you're not going to tell the guys, are you?"

"No, not me, Jimmy."

"Maybe if I rub him a bit, he'd come to life again," he said.

"Hey, give it a try," I said.

I glanced off to the side looking for a proper spot to bury it. Boys don't normally do things like this. We find dead things and watch the ants eat their brains and call it "cool."

"Bob!" He shouted. "Look!"

I couldn't believe it. The small bird was actually alive.

"It had felt warm to the touch a few moments ago, but I really thought it was dead," he said.

He cupped his hands together and blowing his warm breath into the center he tried to comfort it.

The small wings trembled a few times, stretching out periodically.

He opened his hands to reveal the small bird and it stood for a moment only to fall once again.

Neither of us spoke a word as we watched the bird struggle.

"Maybe we should pray," he said.

Now we were into a territory most boys would stay clear of. Tears and prayers were not of men and warriors.

"What do I say?" He asked.

"I don't know. A prayer."

We bowed our heads and waited for some inspiration.

"Now I lay me down to sleep..." Jimmy began.

"Not that one," I said.

"It's the only one I know," he replied.

"Oh, okay...."

Suddenly the bird stood up on Jimmy's hand, shook off the dust of the day and flew away.

We were speechless.

Almost immediately, we heard the rest of our friends approaching.

"Wipe your face, " I whispered. "Here, put some dirt on it."

"Hey, what happened?" One of the boys asked.

"Jimmy was hit pretty hard. He even passed out. When I came around the corner here, he was moaning,"I said.

"He looks like he was crying," someone said laughing.

"Get out of here, that's sweat and dirt on his face. When he got up he wanted to go beat up the guys that hit him. I had to fight him back and hold him here until you guys came."

Good answer.

"Ah, forget it. Let's keep going. It's getting late."

"Hey, how'd you find him over here anyway?" One of my friends asked.

I looked at Jimmy and said, " A little bird told me."

I had forgotten about that moment until this very day. It wasn't until I realized what today was that I suddenly found it significant.

For if you are celebrating the Christian holiday of Easter you might well understand.

It was on this very day that someone took the blows of a hammer and nails on a cross so we did not have to. He too died and miraculously rose again.

I don't know if Jimmy ever saw it that way or remembers it ever happening at all. But I see now the greater lesson in that moment. It appears in a card I created a few years ago...

"A tenderhearted man is not weak. It takes great strength to carry so much love for life."

Bob Perks 2believe@comcast.net

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