Henry Wilson was the youngest of the several Wilson children. In that while he had older brothers and sisters in high school, even college, Henry had just started school himself.
If he was his parents’ mid-life baby, the apple of their eye, and pretty much doted on by his older siblings–still, Henry wasn’t spoiled. No one among the Wilsons, parents or children, were spoiled. The culture of their family promoted anything but such self absorption. They were, instead–the Wilsons, to a person–they were simply “winners,” in the fullest and best sense of what that might mean.
No child could have ever been born into, nor lived within a more secure fabric of healthy family love–of discipline and affection, warmth, humor, challenge, even friendly competition–than Henry Wilson. It was no wonder that he walked and talked and worked and played with such spontaneity, confidence, creativity and joy. For if anyone was ever meant to thrive, it was he.
And within Henry’s world there were at least two constants which seemed to represent, somewhat symbolically, how safe and supportive the little guy’s circumstances surely were.
One was his devoted and enduring friendship with his neighbor, Susan. They had been born in the same hospital but a few months apart. So they had known each other all of their young lives. They seemed inseparable–two different children, born into two different families–but otherwise not unlike brother and sister. They played together, started school together, were in the same classes at school, went to the same church, competed and even fussed with one another with as much goodwill as they had inherited from their families. For Henry, at least, life without Susan’s role in it seemed quite unimaginable.
The other constant, for Henry, was his father’s unmistakable way of clearing his throat. If anything was characteristic of the accomplished Mr. Wilson–at least to Henry–it was that nervous cough which Henry had never not heard. And not infrequently. As something of an unconscious touchstone, Henry’s dad clearing his throat–it seemed to signal “all is well”–even in the rarest of moments when Henry may have been, if only mildly, distressed.
It was Christmas Eve, time for the children’s program at church. Henry had practiced the lines he had been given to speak. He had ‘em down all right. This was an important occasion to which youngsters and their families, in Henry’s community and church, looked forward. Having rehearsed at length, under the direction of the demanding Mrs. Johnson, along with the other kids Henry was ready to go.
The time of the service arrived. The sanctuary was filled with no shortage of family and friends, including visitors. In an adjacent room, Mrs. Johnson–who had directed this annual event for generations, including the participation of Henry’s older brothers and sisters–she had organized this year’s group into pairs. They were to hold hands with their partner as they processed into the chancel area of the church.
Henry’s partner, of course, was Susan. But somehow, as they were processing, Henry and Susan–they got separated. And the next thing he knew, Henry found himself standing alone, there in the chancel, before the gathered and crowded congregation. Moreover, spotlights had been installed at the back of the church for this special occasion, and they were shining brightly into Henry’s eyes. So brightly, in fact, as to be blinding. The kind of blinding that makes things seem even beyond pitch black.
Henry couldn’t see a thing. He was frightened. Where was Susan? For that matter, where was he? If Henry had ever felt “lost” in his young life, it was surely now. His fear was dis-orienting. His mind was blank. He wanted to run–somewhere–anywhere. But where? Henry’s fear was crippling, yea paralyzing. As hard as he had worked at memorizing his lines, they had now fled as far from his crack shot memory as he felt estranged from anything or anyone he had once thought he ever knew.
Suddenly, or so it seemed, it was Henry’s time to speak. What could he do?