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Written by Larry Ricciadelli
(…Or A Would-be Good Samaritan)
E very Monday our class went to the school library to borrow a book, which you could keep for a week. I chose a book titled, Strike Him Out! It was about a farm boy named Jim, a pitcher for his high school baseball team who suffers a tragic accident when he gets his right arm cut off in a threshing machine. But being a courageous lad, Jim learns to throw left-handed, and even helps other crippled kids to learn to play ball or at least to have fun watching. That got me thinking about how I might be able to put into practice a lesson I’d recently learned in Sunday School: being of help to the less fortunate other.
Well I didn’t have to look very far for my first less fortunate other. At recess I saw Johnny Chisholm sitting by himself under a tree away out in “no man’s land.” I didn’t know much about him except that he was from one of the poorer families in the neighbourhood and that he was in Tommy’s grade six class. From what I could tell at that moment however, he appeared to be in some distress. Eager to begin my mission I set out towards the far reaches of the school yard to see what was wrong with “Big John Kong”, as he was called. I told Willie that this was a one-man job but asked him to hang around back near the pavement in case I needed help.
“What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter?” I asked standing tentatively a few feet away from this big, unhappy looking boy.
“Nothin’,” he sniffed in between sobs. He ran the sleeve of his slightly ragged, oversized shirt under his runny nose. “How come you’re crying?” I said casually.
“Ain’t crying. Now lemme alone!” Maybe I should signal Willie for some help, I thought. Then I decided more people would only further embarrass poor Johnny. He wanted to be alone for a reason. But I wasn’t about to abandon this unfortunate boy despite his reluctance to let me play the Good Samaritan.
Drawing from my storehouse of biblical verse and comforting cliches, I began, “Tears from one poor soul cry out for gentle words from another.” (That was from my grandmother, or maybe it was the book of Job.) This brought no response at all, and so I pressed on. “Tell me Jonathon, why do you sit alone bleating like a lost sheep?”
He stopped crying for a minute and stared at me. “What are you, nuts or something? Get outa here! This ain’t none o’ your business!” Realizing that I’d angered a whimpering giant, I said a silent prayer to St. Diminutivus, helper of the small in stature.
“Do not be afraid my child.”
Then I resumed my barrage of soothing words. “Do not be afraid my child. I come only to ease your pain and to dry your tears.”
That brought Johnny to his feet. “Listen you little church mouse,” he boomed, “I ain’t no child and you’re gonna have t’ dry your own tears in a minute if ya’ don’t shut up!”
I was now engulfed in the gargantuan shadow of a lad apparently bent on being stubbornly uncooperative and openly belligerent. Thus I offered a second silent prayer, this one directed at St. Vulnerabilis, protector of those at an obvious disadvantage. Trusting that my prayer had at least garnered some consideration, I calmly looked Johnny in the eye. It was now or never. I had to come up with something clever but not too sissified. “Anger comes and anger goes,” I said with therapeutic authority, “but nothing’s solved if we come to blows.”
I waited, peeking over Johnny’s shoulder and noticing Mr. Mistletoe, the shop teacher getting set to ring the bell. Johnny’s face, snott-ridden and tear streaked suddenly broke into a bright smile. “Hey that’s nice,” he said, “It’s a poetry saying. I like that kinda stuff.”
Not wanting to sound too clever I replied, “It’s something that was composed a long time ago by San Lorenzo, the master of poetic prose.”
At the sound of the bell we trotted casually back toward the school together and got to the door just as the last couple of kids was going in. Mr. Mistletoe, a hulking brute of a man in the image of U.S. Senator, Joseph McCarthy remained at his post. Pointing an accusatory finger at us he warned, “You two pussy footers had better have your secret little meetings closer to home at recess. You don’t want to be late, not when I’m on duty!”
We both nodded, “Yes, sir.”
We both nodded, “Yes, sir.” But the shop teacher’s bark barely scratched my surface, I was so pleased with myself that I’d made Johnny a little bit happier. I watched him run down the hall to Miss Bernie who stood waiting at her classroom door. You definitely didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Miss Bernie. With the lovely Miss Garland however, I could afford to be a minute or so late since I was returning from a mission of mercy.
As we left the school at lunchtime, Willie asked, “What was the matter with that guy out there in the field?”
“Nothing that a few kind words couldn’t solve,” I said with all the confidence of a newly ordained pastor.