Richard lay awake, in the top half of his bunk bed, listening to the soft snoring sighs of his five year old sister Theresa in the bunk beneath. He lay invisible in the night listening to the creaks and groans of his sixth floor apartment. He heard the rustle of a mouse scurrying across the floor in search of crumbs. He heard a police siren wailing out its tune and the general buzz of traffic in the streets below. He was restless, sleep hard to come by and his mind wandered. He started thinking about the book he had just read.
He had started reading Voltaire, the cynicism and satire suiting his fourteen year old teenage angst. He had thoroughly enjoyed Candide and was currently reading a collection of Voltaire’s short stories. One in particular, concerning Micromegas, an inhabitant of a planet 21 million times the circumference of earth. Micromegas is 120,000 ft. tall and is expected to live for 10 million years. On his way to tour our solar system he stops off on Venus and befriends a dwarf who is only 6,000 ft. tall. Micromegas lands on earth and decides its devoid of life but his dwarf friend spots movement and so enter into a dialogue with its inhabitants, who happen to be a group of philosophers. Micromegas asks how humans can possibly see value in their lives, it’s so short, only about 70 years compared to his 10 million years and they are less than insects compared to his height. And so the discussion continues in this vein, though Micromegas is eventually impressed that humans have some kind of intelligence.
Richard’s mind changed direction and he started thinking how the sun would burn itself out in five billion years and what would happen to earths inhabitants then. What was the point of it all if even earth would no longer exist in the future. With these disturbing thoughts swirling in his head he drifted in restless sleep.
Morning came and responsibilities beckoned. He jumped to the floor and shook Theresa, gently urging her to get up, it was time for school. He then wandered into the living room where he spied his mother passed out on the couch fully clothed. She had worked the late shift at Tim Hortons and so had probably arrived home at 1:00 a.m. She had three part time jobs to support her family, her second husband having deserted her when she was pregnant with Theresa. He poured cornflakes for himself and Theresa and placed the bowls on the table. He looked in the fridge and was happy to find that his mother had bought a grilled chicken, bacon, ranch wrap from Tim Hortons for his lunch. Soon he and Theresa were off on their 20 minute walk to school.
He dropped Theresa off at the senior kindergarten play pen and proceeded to the part of the school that was under grade eight control. He passed Stephanie on the way but he was invisible to her as she chatted idly with her two friends. He sighed, why did people have to use their mouths to communicate, when it would be so much easier to communicate with your mind. Richard was shy and sensitive and didn’t communicate easily, thinking he would just be making a fool of himself. He lacked confidence and was embarrassed when he became the centre of attention. His fondest fantasy was of donning an invisibility cloak and disappearing at will. He liked to think of himself as an observer of life and didn’t like to get involved in other students affairs. He just watched as they went about their lives.
At first recess he was standing by the fence watching Stephanie as she awaited arrival of her friends. He tried not to be too obvious in his staring. He liked Stephanie, she was quiet and low key, not loud and giggly like most of the girls, and she was attractive. He then observed Thomas striding purposely toward her. The bully Thomas. The Thomas who Richard was constantly in fear of, hiding behind lockers or jumping into empty classrooms when he saw him stalking the school’s hallways. He further observed that Thomas was making a nuisance of himself by darting his upper body forward in Stephanie’s direction while she flinched away. Stephanie had backed away until meeting the fences resistance she could go no further. Thomas continued to hound her and now Stephanie was gesturing angrily at him.
Before he knew what was happening Richard found his feet moving, without conscious thought, towards Stephanie and Thomas. He heard a voice shouting, “leave her alone” and was surprised to find that it was his. Thomas turned to face him, ” get lost you turd, this is none of your business”. Richard, trembling stood his ground as Thomas started to advance towards him, ” are you deaf, you’re not wanted here. You looking for trouble? “. Thomas took another step towards Richard and Richard was about to take a step back when a thought flashed through his mind. He remembered two years previous when he had watched a puppy training program on TV. The instructor had noted that the puppy was always trying to gain dominance and if he attempted to bite the natural instinct was for the owner to step away. This would be a mistake as the puppy would then gain dominance and continue to be unruly. The owner should step towards the puppy occupying its space and thus exert their dominance. Thomas was definitely not a puppy, but he was trying to exert dominance so Richard instead of giving ground stepped forward. They were of equal height and both stared unflinchingly into each others eyes. Their gaze held for about ten seconds when Thomas laughed, ” you’re a pair of losers. I’ve got no time for this” and he stalked away.
Stephanie looked at Richard seeing him for the first time. In that moment Richard discovered the secret to life. Accept responsibility for yourself in appearance and action, participate in life rather than be an observer, and try to do good. Richard understood that this was his time upon earth, he had value in this universe and should spend it trying to make the planet and its occupants a better place.
Where there is no love, put love, and then there will be love.
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)