Chris was my son Lance's best friend. The two boys filled our house with the raucous clamor of male pubescence, whooping over a newly sprouted chin hair or growing mystically quiet if a girl made eye contact. The boys often holed away in Lance's room, sharing tasteless jokes and chortling at a secret punch line. Many of their jokes were probably X-rated, but I loved their laughter.
When they made late-night refrigerator raids, the guys made "hungry" noises designed to repulse anyone within earshot. My son would bolt to the refrigerator, but Chris would drag behind, answering Lance's routine challenge to "hurry up!"
"I'm coming! I'm coming! Keep your legs on," Chris would yell in response. After pirating forbidden food, the boys would flee — my son lunging upstairs while Chris dragged his body up one stair at a time. Having returned to the safety of the bedroom, they would again lower their voices to the privy murmur of dirty jokes and "what-if-a-girl" stories.
When the boys were 13, I introduced them to the joys of live, symphonic music. Looking almost splendid in their awkward-fitting suits and noose-like ties, the boys decided their favorite part of the concert was intermission. As they made their way slowly to the lobby, concertgoers gave Chris a wide berth, looking a little too long at his brace-supported legs.
I wanted to announce: "Yes, do take a look at this boy who is a remarkable person — standing, sitting or dragging. He has a sharp mind and rapier wit. He makes me laugh. He brings my house to life. He empties my refrigerator but fills my heart. Look at him as long as you like! His deformity is not contagious but his spirit is. You will never see a finer 13-year-old!"
Every time I saw Chris, which was often, I imagined adding a small ‘t' to his name. He was a present-day Christ for me — loving, inspiring, encouraging. For me, he was a walking witness to God's mercy and love.
As the concert wore on that evening, the boys wore out. Lance's eyes grew red with fatigue, and Chris' suit jacket hung precipitously over one shoulder. As the orchestra began an exquisite andante movement, the audience hushed with awe and expectation. Just then I noticed with horror that Chris was leaning over with his mouth at Lance's ear. Sure enough, an eruption of boyish giggles sounded a downbeat for the opening note of the violin being played by none other than Itzhak Perlman.
Three matrons sitting behind us leaned forward with an a capella "shhhhh!" Their indignation was appropriate, and I chastened the boys, who remained quiet and bored throughout the remainder of the concert. But they continued to exchange messages encoded in raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders.
The years have passed since that concert. These days I more closely resemble the matrons seated behind us than the young mother I was that night. But in the echo chamber of my memory, I still hear the tempo of the boys' sotto voce conversations and late-night laughter. I still feel the rhythm of Chris' leg braces stup-stupping along the stairs as he shouts, "I'm coming! I'm coming! Keep your legs on!" And I still see a 13-year-old image of Christ, bringing hope to us all.
There's an update to this story. Halter said: "Medical technology caught up with Chris. He had surgery several years ago and can walk now without braces. It's a joy to behold!"
This week's front page features:
Connecting to kids: Artist Chris Raschka draws on his inner 9-year-old.
Chickens in church: Ohio youth get a special visit during Lent.
Facing the homeless: Artist's work benefits Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Great-grandpa's coat: Wearing it, I am reminded of the family of faith.
Also: 'Primary' resource.
Also: Words pack a punch.Read these articles at our front page ...
This week on our blog:
Elizabeth Hunter blogs about the top religion stories of 2007 -— and The Lutheran's plans for 2008.
Kathleen Kastilahn writes about "green" grandmas.
Julie Sevig blogs about the blessings (and curse) of the Internet.
Sonia Solomonson (right) asks: "Can we talk?"Check out our blog ...
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