Growing up with only sisters has left me a bit naïve. I fail to grasp the humor of bad smells, the awe of sound effects, and the allure of sticks. My son is like the Yoda of boyhood (note the Star Wars reference . . . I am learning). Through him I have finally begun to crack the code. I get it: farts are funny and all toy cars sport bad mufflers.
The whole stick thing proves a bit more complicated; not on an intellectual level, but in the sheer number of unspoken rules. The most important rule being that nothing comes between a boy and his stick. And my son has an eagle eye.
Once a stick finds the gleam in his eye; he will climb mountains, traverse ravines, wade through rivers, or even clean his room to possess that stick. Though they all look the same to me, my son will tell you that every stick has a unique purpose. Some are light sabers, swords, guns, weapons of mass destruction, nose pickers, flags of surrender, sister torturing devices, dog toys, and so on. A log is not a log, it is a stick. A twig is not snappable, but snuggable. My son will contend that sticks not only belong in the house, but also deserve a place on his pillow. And if another boy within a ten-mile radius has a stick, then my son MUST have a bigger one.
The rules of stick possession are finite and universal. Two boys who have never met can grasp sticks at the exact moment and immediately combat in an Epic Battle to rule the World. Without any words; they know who is the bad guy, the good guy, and what is the weapon of choice. And they never grow too old to play.
With age, the sticks just get more expensive. As teenagers, boys spend hundreds on video games . . . with joy sticks. In college, frat boys forego buying books in order to invest in a pool table . . . with perfectly honed sticks called cues. Men return to boyhood midlife and buy convertibles . . . with a stick shift. Even one of the most famous of all quotes, from one of the most famous of all presidents, involved carrying a big stick. (I can just imagine that political rally: thousands of men shaking branches towards the sky while thousands of women role their eyes).
Conditioned to a man’s need for a stick; I didn’t even flinch when, while trail running six months ago, I approached a man in the bushes dressed in a long black raincoat and carrying a large metal rod. As his image came clearer into view, I prepared myself both to run for my life and to pick up the nearest tree debris . . . just in case he was Luke Skywalker waiting for Darth Vadar.
It turned out, he posessed intense fear of my dog. I tried to explain that, though off leash, my dog had no interest in him. The man countered that he had twice been bitten on that exact trail by dogs whose owners swore they were friendly. So now, he really does walk softly and carry a big stick.
I see that man at least once a week now. We tango every time. He slides off the trail and poses with his stick. I yell to my dog to run easy and I prance pass with an understanding nod. Each time, my dog’s character holds true and he sprints past with no acknowledgement of the guy in the trench coat. (Good to know just what kind of guard dog he really is).
Today something magic happened. Coming around a corner, I saw trench-coat man headed my way. He didn’t move off the trail. He continued on, walked past, and even smiled. After six months he finally believed that he was safe to pass.
It occurred to me in that moment that what I had tried to explain with words, was better proved through the continued and undeniable actions of my pooch.
In a long car ride with a friend this weekend, she told me that she considers herself an atheist. But sometimes things happen that force her to think: there must be a God somewhere who cares.
I can defend God with my words, try to explain his love and grace. God can speak for Himself. He is always moving and working. His character comes through as my life experiences the goodness and protection only He can provide. Even the smallest of cares that weight me down, He cares about too. God has expressed himself in creation, reveals Himself in daily miracles, touches our lives with the lives of others.
God and I are like my son and his sticks. He explains Himself.