Monday, October 08, 2007

Creative Writing: A Rite of Manhood

Seven boys stand in a circle with eyes turned toward the sky. Their attention is riveted to a spiraling football thrown heavenward. Each boy trying to anticipate the first bounce. Some are hoping to scoop up the ball and run for daylight, others are hoping to simply get out of the way. Jeremy is one of those boys.

Jeremy is a skinny kid of average height with curly blond hair, freckled cheeks, and glasses prone to slip down a sweaty nose. No one would mistake him for a future football star, not even Jeremy himself. His destiny lies in books and learning and invention, a discipline that can take him far and into a noble trade. But today, he must play this game with other boys. Life is more than books and notes.

The game which these boys play has no real winner. There are no touchdowns. Indeed, there is no scoring at all. There are no referees, and there are few rules. The game is simple. When the ball bounces, someone picks it up and runs for his life. The other six chase him like a pack of wolves intent on dragging down their prey. It's about competition and survival and thrill of the chase. It's about the freedom that comes with knowing you are doomed and yet running like you have a chance. Ah yes, we all know that we will eventually be caught and dragged to the earth, but not now, not while I still have a few moves left.

There are really three types in this game. The one type likes to grab the ball and try to break free. Another is the bully type. He doesn't care about carrying the ball, he only waits to put the hurt on the guy who grabs it. The third sort of hangs pack to pile on. They make feints for the ball, as if they will grab it, but they seldom do. They don't make tackles, and they don't run, and they pray that no one notices that they have the guts for neither.

Jeremy has watched the ball bounce, and he has watched one boy after another pick up the ball and run, only to eventually get clobbered. He has felt the excitement of the game, if only vicariously. His friend Trevor has gotten creamed again. Trevor likes to run the ball. Jeremy admires Trevor the way a boy admires a warrior fresh from battle. It is the fearlessness that he admires, the willingness to play against odds that are insurmountable.

Trevor rises from the ground and flings the ball into the air in a slow, lazy spiral. Jeremy watches, spellbound, as it rises. And that's when something happens in his heart. Something that cannot be fully explained to a boy or anyone else. It is something that goes back to the time that God made a man from dirt, from the time that man had to deal with thorns and wild animals and adversity. Jeremy comes from a long, unbroken line of men who have survived famines and wars and plagues and disease and shipwrecks and heartbreak. All boys do. And as that ball floats something may fire in a young boys heart, something of the spirit that he inherited from the survivors who came before. A passion to play and to run and to laugh while there is still time.

One bounce and the ball is his. Jeremy's heart is on fire. He is surrounded by boys who want nothing more than to grind him to dust, and yet it is his joy to put off their pleasure as long as he can. Somehow, he has broken free of the ring of boys. It comes at the cost of his T-Shirt. His mom will be appalled at the tear, and when she asks how it happened he will shrug and say that it happened playing football. That's all the explanation she'll get. Dad will overhear and smile; that's all the explanation he'll need.

And so Jeremy runs for his life. Like the rest, he won't get too far until he is pounded to the earth. And he will rise, indomitable and dirty, glasses hanging loosely from a sweaty nose. He will fling the ball into the air and wait for it to bounce, ready to give his brothers the thrill of being chased.