Coloring outside the lines

Eli walked with a limp. He walked to school most every day. Even though it caused him pain in his hips it was better than riding the school bus. Eli passed the old Hassel Farm each day, and every day, the top of their Gothic looking chimney gave him shivers up and down his spine.

It was difficult knowing that he was not like other boys. It was even more difficult knowing that there was nothing he could do to change it. And oh, how he tried! He could not, not limp. He could not help but feel fearful of many so things quite benign. He couldn't make himself popular or become one of the group. He often found himself standing alone. He treated others well. He extended his friendship whenever he could. He wasn't loud or obnoxious. Even his name made him different. He was not a "Rick," or a "Bob" or a "Steve." His name was "Eli." He knew that he could not compete with those around him.

So he didn't.

One school morning, Eli was asked to stand and lead the class in the Pledge of Allegiance. His shyness held him frozen in his seat. The teacher berated him for his obstinacy but he would not budge. The teacher made it her mission not to be outdone by this obviously rude and dimwitted child. She made the decision to have him stay after school for several weeks until he agreed to stand before the class and do what she had ordered. Eli refused. Eventually, in desperation, the teacher gave up. She didn't forget, she just temporarily gave up.

Eli was befriended by a new kid in his class. Rick had moved in several houses down on the same street as Eli. His parents were young and influential around town. Rick was the first person that Eli ever knew of that earned a weekly allowance. Rick's family was also the first in the neighborhood to have color television. They got along famously and played together every day. It seemed fine with Rick that Eli didn't have a cent in his pockets or that Eli walked with a limp. Or that Eli was shy and reserved and often quite frightened of things that most boys found inviting. None of this was of any interest to Rick.

Thanksgiving was always a big deal both at home and at school. Children were taught to read Thanksgiving stories and color Thanksgiving themes. They were told of the Pilgrims and about the Indians. They were told that the Pilgrims and the Indians were from very different worlds and cultures. They were of a different skin color. They came together in the name of peace and understanding and ate a great feast. It was a joyous celebration. The first Thanksgiving!

The teacher chose Rick for a monumental task. He was to draw and color a piece of paper big enough to cover a whole wall in a thanksgiving theme. He was excused from several classes a day to work on it. Rick stayed after school to work on it. The teacher would come by and give a few suggestions, suggest a color or where to place a tree. She would rub his head and nod approvingly. But she was unaware of the weight that this task placed on Rick's mind. It took away from his play time. His time with a new color television. His time of playing Army or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. with Eli. It seemed all so daunting; that one nine year old boy would be responsible for creating so large a Thanksgiving classroom backdrop.

It seemed quite reasonable for Rick to turn to Eli and invite him to help. And Eli was excited to be able to contribute to something so large. Much larger than himself. Larger even than Rick and himself. What an honor. What an opportunity. How grand!

They met immediately after school had let out for the day and excitedly took out all the crayons and spread them out upon the unfurled picture. In all of history no one had ever witnessed a happier set of boys furiously working on so great a project. People would line up around the block to witness such a creation. How proud would their parents be! They would bask in the radiant approval of their teacher. The principal may even hold an assembly to show off what they had done. Maybe they will be in the paper!

"WHAT are you doing?" yelled Mrs Smith with eyes so big and a face so red that they almost did not recognize her. "What are you doing?" she repeated looking directly at Eli. "Look at what you have done! You colored outside the lines! I didn't invite you here! This is a Thanksgiving picture and not some scribble you do at home!

As was her custom, she grabbed Eli by the ear and ushered him into the Principal's office whereby he continued the assault.

Things were never quite the same after that day for Rick and Eli. It was as though this event helped Rick to finally realize what everyone else so easily came to conclude. "Eli was a Loser."
It was his destiny in life. Whenever the sun would shine on another, the rain would poor on him.

In his later years, Eli came to conclude that his "being a Loser" was a necessary thing. As there cannot be hot without there being cold, or light without being dark, there could not be winners without some losers.

Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is molded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus tools come from what exists,
But use from what does not


Al said…
You can't end a story like that! I was rooting for Rick to stand up to the teacher or for Eli to create something beautiful (as coloring outside the lines often is).

What now? I'll be thinking about this story all day...

I wish kids could be nicer.