Seasons of a Boy
A Story of Awakening to Life, Love, and Spirit
by Martin Lass copyright 2009
I don’t know how long I’d been crying. It seemed like an eternity. I do know that at a certain point, my crying reached a new intensity—a new and ear-shattering pitch.
Somehow, babies instinctively know just how to produce the exact frequencies that cut deep into a mother’s heart. Unless, of course, your mother has a heart of ice or stone. My mother was determined to teach me a lesson, to show who was the boss, to set the record straight, right from the beginning. It was afternoon naptime, and that was that. So, I had been crying my little heart out for the last several hours, my mother ignoring my infant pleas.
Eventually, exhausted from hours of crying, I quieted down to a few whimpers and finally fell silent. I wasn’t asleep, though, but just lay there, looking out from my crib. Responding to the sudden silence in the room, I became very quiet inside. Time stretched out into long breaths, and the entire world seemed close in the hush of the sultry August afternoon. In the silence, I became aware of my own breath… coming in… going out… in… out… in… out… reassuring and soothing.
In this timeless moment, my attention was attracted by a play of light coming in through the half-opened window. The light hovered in the window, shifting and turning as it filtered through from the trees above. The curtains, gently buffeted by the summer breeze, took on a life of their own.
And, in the silence, there was a kind of presence—around me, pervading the room, around the house, encapsulating and unifying the world. It was alive, aware, and watchful. For an eternal moment, I felt held, in invisible hands, in the hands of love. It was a love that would never let one down, that would always be there, and that was the only truth, the only reality. I basked in this timeless, spaceless moment. My world was complete.
All of a sudden, though, my attention was distracted by the sound of my mother moving in the next room. The presence vanished, my awareness of it abruptly cut off by my shift of attention. The momentary completeness of the world was shattered, and there was only a crib, a room, a curtained window, and… a gnawing pain inside. And, as babies do, I started crying for my mother again.
* * *
The good thing about telling a story after the fact, particularly when telling about things that happened in childhood, is that, as adults, we now have words to describe things that we previously experienced in the raw, so to speak, without words.
As well as this, as adults, we have, hopefully, the hindsight and greater wisdom to be able to see how the pieces of our lives—the many scattered episodes—fit into a larger Tale, a complete and fully integrated mythology, one might say, where every smallest event and character has its perfect place and meaning. We don’t see this at the time, of course—only much later, if at all.
As far as my tale, I couldn’t have invented it. Who could have written such a perfect screenplay? I’m just a player in a larger drama, written by who knows who or what. I can only relate my experiences and my realizations about these experiences. Hopefully, by the end of the tale, you’ll see and understand what I’ve seen and understood about my life and see that it’s a perfect mirror of your life. The characters and events may be different, but the plot is the same.
So, this was my beginning. Beginnings determine endings, so we’re told, but endings also determine beginnings, as strange as this may sound. And, bringing together all beginnings and endings—all the seasons of a life—is the ever-present moment of now… but I’m already getting ahead of myself…
(Chapters 1 and 2 are skipped in this excerpt…)
“Wake up, kids! Up and at ‘em!” The curtains flew open, sunlight filling the bedroom. The cool summer morning air flowed like a fine liqueur over my sleepy face. It carried with it the smells of open fields, deep ravines, tree-arched avenues, and dusty vacant blocks, as the living presence of the world opened its arms to the waking dreams and epic adventures of children everywhere.
“We’re going to the Wilsons’ today, so let’s move it!” Our Mom whisked out of the room. In the bed next to me, I could hear my older brother, Curtis, stirring. As soon as my eyes had adjusted to the assault of light, I jumped out of bed and rumbled onto my big brother’s bed, punching him and shaking him.
“C’mon, you slug! We’re going out!”
“Get lost, you… you… just go away!” groaned Curtis. I jumped off and ran downstairs to a waiting breakfast.
* * *
Finally, everyone was ready. Mom locked up the house, and everybody got into the car, Dad taking the driver’s seat. I claimed a window seat in the back, Curtis claiming the other. Our little brother Tommy, now five going on six, was pig in the middle, as usual. There was the usual jostling of elbows, followed by dire warnings and something about “kingdom come” from Mom. The heady smell of summer mingled with the rich aromas of a large hamper of food in the back of the station wagon and with the faint smell of gas from the old car.
“Let’s roll!” said Dad, as he fired up the engine. My brothers and I, favoring boredom to “kingdom come,” stopped our jostling and settled down for the long drive.
As we drove, leaving the suburbs behind and entering the countryside, my thoughts wandered. I would be nine in a few weeks. I wondered what I would get for my birthday this year. My mind then turned to the Wilson kids and to what we would all get up to that day. As I daydreamed with the side of my face pressed against the window, the world panned by—trees, telephone poles, and road signs blending into one.
There was something comforting in the day, in the July landscape, in the car, in the family being together. It was something I couldn’t put my finger on or even put into words, but it was as tangible as a hug. It held the world in a kind of vibrant but hypnotic spell. It was a kind of presence—as though the world was alive.
It was more than this, though. Everything was in its right place—no loose ends or sharp edges. All was right with the world. In these safe hands, no adventure seemed too big, too daunting, or too challenging.
As my awareness drifted into daydreams again, the sense of presence receded into the background, as though, like a living thing, it understood that the moment had passed, and that it would have to wait for another opportunity to jolt my awareness into a greater reality…
An hour later, the family car turned off the highway and into a little country road that meandered through a sunny wilderness. Between oases of trees, there were a few fields of corn and some meadows of tall grasses, broken by rabbit-runs and spotted with wildflowers, soft with summer abandon.
After a mile or so, a few houses appeared—a little enclave surrounded by the countryside. Dad steered the car into a gravel driveway, up a small hill, and stopped at the Wilsons’ house. As the hot engine spluttered to a stop, my brothers and I climbed out, running to greet the Wilson kids, Dorothy and Frankie, who were falling out of the house to meet us.
We all loved our visits to the Wilsons, which invariably stretched out all day and half the night. Our parents would lounge around, inside and outside, talking about everything and nothing while sipping cool drinks and savoring piquant snacks. Their voices and laughter would blend with the cool morning, with the hot afternoon, and with the humid evening.
We kids would be off playing all day—inside for a while with toys and games, then out into the countryside for make-believe games and World Series competitions. On rabbit-runs, we would run, laughing and calling… Then stopping: waiting: listening: soaking up the gentle open silence… Then, we would run and play again, until hunger brought us home.
In the mid-afternoon, the dads would light up the barbecue—hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, onions, and mushrooms. The moms would prepare the rest of lunch—potato salad, coleslaw, pickles, buns, ketchup, and sodas. The group would then come together amidst a unifying haze of barbecue smoke, eating, drinking, talking, and laughing under a summer canopy of trees.
For me, these kinds of days seemed endless, cupped in the hands of an unseen presence—a livingness that wordlessly sang the world, like a melody on some huge musical instrument.
This day was no different—at first. The day proceeded as usual, until, after lunch, we decided to play hide-and-seek. First, Curtis was “it,” the others popping off like firecrackers to hide while he counted to a hundred. Once everybody was found, it was Dorothy’s turn, then Tommy’s.
When it was my turn, I counted to a hundred and raced off to find my friends, hoping to find everybody and win the “prize.” What the “prize” was, nobody ever knew or said. It was only important to win it. After finding everybody else, though, I couldn’t find Frankie.
Thinking I would be cleverer than the others, I ran off down the end of the road, searching beyond where we all usually played. As I ran, scanning the terrain, the little country road twisted and turned until the houses were gone, lost behind a bend and a row of trees. I slowed my pace, now a little apprehensive. Then, abruptly, the road ended at a T-intersection, the new road disappearing in opposite directions, quickly swallowed by the wilderness.
Still panting from the run, I stopped. I looked both ways down the new road, squinting into the distance for sight of my friend. Nothing. As my breathing slowed, the silence of breeze, trees, and grasses enveloped me, and I suddenly realized that I was alone.
At that moment, the pavement underfoot seemed very hard. The trees looked very large. Behind the trees, the blue sky expanded, opening into a dizzying infinity. Although the breeze was cool, perspiration now trickled down my face, and my heart skipped a beat. The whole world looked bigger than usual, as though it was being seen though a giant magnifying glass, every detail jumping out in stark and almost shocking relief. Time slowed. Almost stopped. The silence was broken only occasionally by the barren cries of wild birds in the distance and by cricket chirps in the hot grasses nearby.
As I stood there, something beckoned me, called out, begged attention. Was it in me? Was it around me? Where was it? What was it? Whatever it was, it made me start imagining the wild adventures that must lay down these desolate country roads, both exciting and terrifying. What was out there, waiting to be discovered—waiting to discover me? What rude awakenings were in store? What adult experiences lay ahead?
An involuntary shudder shook my body. I suddenly felt very small, very alone, very exposed, and very frightened. My feet became concrete, immovable, imprisoned in the pavement. The world loomed over me, encroaching upon my otherwise protected boyhood existence. A presence pervaded this magnified world, as though seeking its prey. I shrank away, but there was nowhere to hide. This world was too big. My heart was wrenched, torn from its safety net…
All of a sudden, it was all too much for me and, hearing a car approaching from behind, I ripped my feet from the concrete and leapt into flight. I ran, like a terrified deer, back toward the world I knew, back toward the houses, back toward my family and friends, back toward my cocooned existence. It was my turn to hide, to avoid being found or seen, to escape the probing and frightening presence that inhabited a suddenly huge and strange world.
When I reached the Wilsons’ yard, the familiarity of it gave me a sense of safety and security from my would-be assailant. I let out a huge sigh of relief, shaking off the eerie feeling of the preceding moments. The rest of the kids had found Frankie, and they were all playing softball now. I happily joined the game, forgetting about the lost “prize” and about the confronting presence. I was content to allow the old and familiar world to hide me and swallow me up in its protective shell.
* * *
Soon, afternoon became evening, magically decorated with fireflies. I lay with the other children in the cooling grasses, and we all told stories while eating toasted marshmallows. I could hear our parents’ voices drifting into the evening—soothing, reassuring, and sealing out the vast blackness of the unknown.
Later, it was kids’ bedtime. My brothers and I were put into strange beds in a strange bedroom that was replete with strange smells. In the darkness, a glowing clock hummed on the bedside table. I watched the sweep of its second hand as it marked time. Wordlessly, the clock said, all is well, all is well. Our parents’ voices, now more distant, carried on into the night.
In the small hours, we were roused and shuffled into the car. After the warm bed, the cool air was a shock. I could smell the earthy fields, cooling in the night, intermingled with the heady perfume of blossoms. Looking up, I saw the blazing stars burning holes in the velvety cloth of the sky.
With everybody bundled into the car and with good-byes exchanged, Dad started up the engine once more. He backed down the long driveway, turned into the road, and then headed home.
Curtis and Tommy were soon asleep, but I remained awake. I rested my head against the car window and looked out at the silent movie of phantom trees and burning stars. From the safety and warmth of the family car, my mind drifted back to the events of the day. I recalled my country road experience—my mixed feelings of excitement and terror, the way the world had seemed so huge, and the probing presence that seemed to be seeking me out.
As I looked out at the stars, I became aware of the presence again, growing, expanding, in me and around me, although I had no words for it at the time. This time, however, I wasn’t frightened by it. Rather, there was a sense of promise in it, as though I could reach out along those distant country roads and touch the future.
There would be plenty of time for tomorrow, though—plenty of time for hide-and-seek, plenty of time to explore the ever-expanding boundaries of the world I knew, and plenty of time to grapple with the vastness of the intangible livingness of the world. Now, though, I allowed the steady sound of the car and the nearness of my family to wrap me in a protective blanket. After another few miles, I drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Headlights, warding off the dark unknown, turned from a little road in the country and onto the highway. Then, responding to a foot on the gas, the lights sped off through the deep night, with only a single broken white line to guide them to a distant home.
(Continued in the book itself…)