Mark sat in the living room with the evening news on the television in front of him, but he didn’t watch it. He had a half eaten plate of food on the end table next to him, but he didn’t eat it. He thought about going to the kitchen to grab another beer, but he didn’t really want one.
He didn’t want to watch television, he didn’t want to eat dinner, he didn’t want to drink beer. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.
So he got up from his recliner and headed to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, not looking for either food or drink, but needing to do something. Frustrated that whatever he was searching for was not in the refrigerator, he slammed the door shut and went to the cupboard. After opening, and subsequently slamming shut, every door on every cupboard in his small kitchen, he went back into the living room to sit down.
He had only been seated a few minutes when he had to move. He felt caged in the tiny world of his apartment; not knowing what it was he wanted, but not having it anyway. With an exasperated sigh, he pushed himself up out of his chair and paced the room, eventually expanding into the kitchen. When that offered him no reprieve, he slid open the glass door leading to the balcony off of his apartment and leaned against the railing, looking at the city below.
Even still, with the expanse of the world laid out before him, he felt cramped, caged. In a rush of rising anxiety, he let out a frustrated scream. He sank to his knees against the railing of his small balcony, breathing ragged, restless breaths. In the stillness that followed, he heard a small, timid, “Hi.”
Startled, Mark stood up and faced the sound. In the shadow of the balcony next to his he spied a small form, a boy no older than 11, watching him. Embarrassed and unsettled that someone had witnessed his scream of frustration, Mark tried to come up with some response, but only managed to squeak out a meager, “Hello.”
The boy moved forward and leaned on the railing of his own balcony, studying him. “What’s up?” he asked as nonchalantly as he could, although Mark heard a little concern in his tone.
Trying to shrug it off and act normal in front of this kid, he replied, “Not much. What’s up with you?”
But the kid wasn’t fooled. He just looked at him for a while, then said, “That didn’t seem like ‘not much.’”
Mark was a little taken aback by the kid. How could he possibly expect to understand something like what he was going through? “What’s your name?” he asked him.
“Well, Micah, do you…” Mark gathered his thoughts, trying to figure out what to say to this kid that would mean anything to this kid. “Do you know what it’s like to feel like nothing you do matters? That no matter what you do, it doesn’t make any difference? That no one would listen to you anyway?”
To his surprise, Micah looked down and muttered, “Yes.”
Mark moved towards him and sat down. “What happened?”
“Last week, I was supposed to do a project with some guys at school, but they didn’t want me to. They told me I’d just mess it up, so they’d do everything. They wouldn’t let me help at all, no matter what I said, even though I thought I could do a good job. It made me really sad, because I was supposed to be a part of it, but they wouldn’t let me do anything and they wouldn’t listen to me.”
“What did you do?”
“I cried to my parents… They told me I should tell Ms. Lewis.”
“What did she say?”
“She talked to the other kids. She told them that I was a part of the project, too, and that they needed to let me help.”
Mark sat back and sighed. “If only it were that easy. In real life, we can’t just talk to the teacher.”
Micah looked at him, concerned. “So, who do you talk to?”
Mark released another sigh. “I don’t talk to anyone.” He shook his head. “No one knows what I think or how I feel. And what could they do, even if they knew?” It seemed ridiculous to be telling a kid all of this, but what else was there right now?
“Do you talk to God?”
Mark looked up, startled. “What?”
“Do you talk to God?”
He actually laughed this time, “Listen, kid, I haven’t talked to God since I was in high school.”
“But why not?”
He thought about it. “I guess He just didn’t seem to have much of a place in my life. You can believe in Him if you want to, but the world’s much more complex than all of that. We’re responsible for our own actions, our own fate.”
Micah furrowed his brow, apparently trying to think through what Mark had just said. “But… isn’t God like Ms. Lewis? When I didn’t like how the other boys were treating me, I could talk to her, and she decided to talk to the other boys; because she made the assignment, so she could control it. I know in the Bible, a lot of people prayed to God, and He could make it so they won when they thought they’d lose.”
Mark looked out over the city, thinking about what Micah had said. Without looking back at the kid, he said, “But what if Ms. Lewis hadn’t said anything to the other kids at all? What if she’d left you just as you were before?”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Micah sit down with his back to the railing that separated them. A few minutes of silence passed before his quiet voice broke the night. “I guess I would have been very sad. I would have cried. But I know my teacher. I know that she would have listened to me and then decided what was best. Ms. Lewis loves all her students, I know she does, and if she thought that I should try to figure it out on my own without her help, then I know that’s the best thing for me.”
“Why would God leave me feeling sad, when He could just fix it?”
Another few minutes of silence settled over the night, until Micah finally replied.
“I don’t know.”
Mark smiled and looked up at the few stars that were visible that night. The boy was honest, if nothing else. But Micah had listened, and he’d said some good stuff. “Thanks for the talk, kid. I need to sleep on what you said. But thank you.
“Oh, and, let me know what grade you got on your project, ok?”