J. Grant Swank, Jr.
Michael was such a handsome fellow. I think he had the broadest, most sincere smile I have ever seen.
I remember my teen friend working out at the "Y". He was lifting weights. His T shirt was off. He looked down at his slender teen arms and complained, "They're so skinny. I've got to get some muscle." What he did not realize is that the arms were not skinny; they were trim, perfect. I thought, "Beauty is wasted on the young, for sure."
At school I helped him with his English — how to construct a paragraph that made sense. It was for his journal. Or it was to prepare a book report. I considered my school position as not only a teaching opportunity but a chance to live out God’s Spirit.
Talk about Maine's Lakes Region having some of the most promising youths! It is true. That fellow was one of them. But he was also troubled about many things. Like where he was going to sleep, where he was going to eat. There was no real family, no actual home for Michael.
Once I met a neighbor who had taken him to his apartment. The youth slept on the couch. "That's fine with me," Michael informed me without a trace of grimace. But after awhile, he wore out his welcome there. He was like many other teens — bad days and good days.
"I've signed it!" he shouted as he ran toward me with the state form. He had filled it out — now emancipated from any parent or guardian. Emancipation papers — legal. Freedom! On his own. Could sign his own signature without having to get permission.
I thought, "Freedom? Where is all this finally going to lead?" Michael, oh, Michael.
Immediately my prayers ascended for God to consider this young man’s exclamation and follow through with some kind of wisdom laid upon me.
One morning he fell into a really nasty day in class. That was not all that unusual at the alternative learning school where I taught. With that, he stormed out of the building, never to return. Months passed. I wondered about that young man with the broadest smile.
Then I learned he had a baby to Sharna. That would be one difficult bundle to handle, I thought. Baby. Teen girl friend. Michael but a mid-teen himself. Little or no money. No loving, caring family for support.
“God, oh God,” I prayed.
Michael, Sharna and little Brandon were trying to make a go of it bunking out in a local motel room. Imagine!
One evening he and Sharna had a fight. The baby was flung against the wall. Thankfully, the child was not hurt; but Sharna took the little one, went home to her parents and told Michael to lay low till he got his act together.
One afternoon I parked outside our village post office. Walking toward me was none other than my friend! "Grant!" he called out. With that he ran toward me, picked me up into the air with his manly hug, greeting me with that ever-present winning smile. Michael, the ever-cheerful Michael.
"So what's up?" I asked.
Well, this and that, but no steady job, a bit of a hassle regarding some relationships, not certain about a few other life basics. Hopefully he’d get back with Sharna, but nothing definite. He missed seeing the baby as often as he would like to. Once in awhile was the frequency, per Sharna’s stipulations.
More intercessions ascended from my heart to heaven’s throne.
Then one day at school, the phone rang. I picked it up. It was his familiar voice. It did not take long for me to garner the true facts; life was not spelling out a happy camper's tale.
Typical of Michael, he kept his voice sounding confident. He promised things would make a turn around. He was staying in a trailer. "Are you warm?"
"Yes, it's very warm." So he at least was warm in winter.
"She told me I can’t see the baby any more." They had another squabble. Yet the baby boy was all Michael had.
"She told me I can’t see the baby any more." That echoed over and over in my head: ". . .any more. . .any more. . .any more."
So what impression for God had I made upon this lad? I knew one thing. I had tried. I had given my best. My head was confused. But my heart was settled. I had given my best to Michael as more than a teacher but as a friend. I knew only eternity would spell out what that meant in the long run.
The next time I heard about Michael, late one Saturday night on Route 302 he'd darted in front of a car. Preparing for his final moment, he’d left a note in his pocket. No child left in his life. No girl friend. No family. No one, really. But especially never to see his son again.
Those English sentences, that journal, our mountain climb, his post office welcome, the last time I heard his voice on the phone — it all came rushing over me. It was one heavy burden. The Lord knew how heavy the burden.
"What more could I have done to rescue him?" I ask myself over and over. If I could go back in time, I would tell him he could bunk out at our place. I could try something more. It's just that all that's gone now. Totally gone.
I pondered: How many people pass us every day? And how many in desperation’s quandary? How do we treat
them? Do we really care?
One morning I was determined to find out where the baby lived. I did not know for certain but I figured I could feel my way out into the countryside.
Somewhere out there was a trailer where a girl friend and child lived with her parents. If only I could pull out of my memory seeing that trailer several years before. What road was it? What turn?
“Lord, lead me.”
Eventually, I came upon a company sign. "That’s it. It’s down that road, I think." I followed my Guide. Sure enough, to my right was a trailer. Lonely, but there, nevertheless. Parking the car, I gingerly approached the front door, gently knocked.
Presently, a woman answered. "I’m looking for Brandon, a little baby, not so little any more, I suppose."
She, Sharna’s mother, smiled broadly. We had never met. But she immediately responded: "I knew you would come. I know who you are."
With that, she welcomed me inside most warmly. Yes, Brandon was safe and growing nicely. Sharna was doing well, too. Then tears flooded her eyes. And as for Michael?
We both knew he had left us. The handsome young man with the broadest smile forever gone. Totally Gone.
We talked a bit more and then I asked if I could offer a prayer to God. It was one of the most difficult prayers I have ever attempted. But it was all I had.
Driving away, my heart sank. Tears streamed down my cheeks. Memories streamed across my mind’s screen. Such a burden. Such a weight. Michael had left us.
Crying, I had a residue left. It was not Michael, sadly, but it was something, someone. It was a connection to his baby boy. And so with that in my soul I thanked the Lord for His guiding hand.
Even in such a tragic plight, there was still mending to do. And in that I felt I’d come upon a miracle of binding up