Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The Little Boy
"What's the significance of Peter Pan?" he asked.
He is my sister's partner; together, they were over for dinner on a recent Saturday.
I had no idea what he was talking about; his question had come from out of nowhere. What did he mean by Peter Pan? And what did Peter Pan have to do with our topic of conversation?
I must have looked dumbfounded, because my sister's partner pointed to the top of the end table in our sitting room. I looked to my immediate left and saw what he meant.
In the summer of 1981, the same one that Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married, I was a little less than a year into my career with one of Canada's major financial institutions. I had accepted a six-week work assignment to provide vacation relief for an assistant administration officer in charge of the teller line at the Prince Rupert branch.
After flying to Vancouver, taking another flight up the coast of BC, and, finally, a bus off the island where the airport was located, I landed in a strange, small town, with no idea what I'd gotten myself into.
While in Prince Rupert, I remember leaving the branch every day at lunch, walking down the hill to the one and only shopping centre in town, entering The Bay (Canada's oldest department store and institution–now regrettably owned by a large U.S. corporation), and taking the escalator down to the lower mall, where a deli was located, and where I ordered my lunch to go. It was on one of my many trips through The Bay that I saw it.
It was a small tchotchke, sitting on an end table in a living room arrangement, in the home furnishings department. Standing only seven inches tall, it was made of clay, kind of a tan color, and unmistakably charming. It was a little boy, perhaps eight years old, sitting with his legs crossed, forearms leaning on his calves. He wore a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and suspenders. His hair was thick and tousled, his face sweet and innocent, and his expression peaceful, as though he'd been caught spending a lazy afternoon sitting on a patch of grass somewhere.
And, inexplicably, I felt an instant connection to him. For some reason, I related to this little boy, and I had to have him. I had to have him, bring him home, find a place for him somewhere in my bedroom, in the house where I still lived with my parents, and make him a part of my life. Somehow, I knew I would not feel complete without him.
Over these thirty-two years, a lot of tchokchkes have come and gone in the apartments, town-home, and single-family house where I've lived, but the little boy has always been there. In fact, as home decorating items go, the little boy is the only one that remains from an entirely different era of my life–when I was just twenty-one, lost as lost can be (who was I? what was I meant to do?), and still a good five years from coming out of the closet.
I looked at my sister's partner that evening they were over and told him the story I just told you–how the little boy came into my life. And then I said something that surprised me: that it might sound strange, but that little boy was, in some sense, me. And that having him around over the years had not only been comforting, but also necessary, as far as helping me bridge the distance between who I was then, and who, over three decades later, I was meant to be.
The fact is, that little boy remains a constant reminder, during the countless times I pass him every day, of where I came from, and how far I've come. Of who I outright rejected, even hated, for much of my life, because he was so different from other little boys, and because of what I believed he'd put me through as a result. And of who I must now remain at peace with and love, if I'm going to remain at peace with and love who I am today.
The following is a quote from Nate Berkus's The Things That Matter, a wonderful book I highly recommend. He writes:
I think people sometimes confuse loving things with being materialistic, or grasping, or lusting after the things that tell the world who you are. But to me, surrounding yourself with the things you love has nothing to do with impressing other people or gaining status. [Things] represent who people are and all that they've loved and seen (p. 16).
I would also add, and experienced.
The little boy and me? We've been on a long journey together over all these years. Perhaps I was able to find the strength to make that journey because he was there, because I could always count on him. No, I know that's the case. I know he's given me the strength I needed to get to where I am today.
And our journey isn't done. God willing, we still have a long, long way to go, him and me. And I know, with him along, we'll make it. We'll find our way to exactly where we're supposed to go.