March 20, 2005
[Inspired by Chapter 3 of Healing the Masculine Soul]
As usual, I’m lying on the couch reading, with our dog Rajee by my side. Probably a Hardy Boys or Tom Swift Jr. novel; maybe an Isaac Asimov sci-fi story. I rarely play outside or have friends over. It must be before dinner, since afterwards I’m almost always watching TV, unless my brother Larry and I are having one of our periodic Monopoly marathons with his friends. At least, I did until high school when I got immersed in theater and broke my TV habit; so, I must be around twelve, in eighth grade (1979).
Dad’s not around, but that’s hardly unusual, as he always gets home late.
Just then I hear a pounding on the door; which is quite unusual, since most people just ring the doorbell. Mom jumps a little; she’s been a little edgy all day, almost as if she were expecting something like this. Rajee barks, gets up, and runs towards the door. Which is also unusual, at least the barking; she’s still young enough to run, but ordinarily she just ‘whuffles’ softly when we have a visitor.
However, none of that is enough to break my composure. I pause briefly, register the sounds, then return to my reading, lost in my own little world. But not for long.
Mom opens the door. Suddenly the sound of singing — which had been an indistinct murmur through the walls — pours in through the doorway. Rajee barks and runs outside, which is enough to raise me from my couch to see where she’s gone, lest she run away.
At first I think it might be Christmas carolers — the air is cold, and snow covers the ground, so the season is about right. But the sounds aren’t like any carols I’d ever heard. For one, the voices appear to be chanting, not singing. Secondly, I quickly realize that all the voices are male — men, in fact, without the usual high notes of women or children. Third, there’s a deep, wild drumbeat pounding out the tempo — far more reckless than any yuletide hymn. Rather ominous, yet alluring at the same time.
That ambivalence slows my stockinged feet as I enter the green-linoleum covered hallway to the front door. Mom is now standing the doorway, so I can’t see what lies beyond her in our front yard. I find myself wishing Dad was here, to deal with this unbecoming (possibly hostile) interruption to our sleepy life in small-town Illinois.
Then, a strong tenor Voice cuts through the deep bass of chanting. It sounds somewhat like the Hindu priests blaring through loudspeakers on Indian corners, but also like the Lutheran ministers chanting the Kyrie Elieson, as I once heard during nerd camp in Wisconsin. Eerie, yet familiar — with the bass chorus echoing the words like the rumbling of the earth and sea — the unseen Voice stands on our front step and begins a singsong chant:
Esther Prabhakar, we have come for the boy (the boy).
Bone calls to bone, and flesh calls to flesh (flesh).
You have nursed and weaned him, since his first breath (breath)
Now is the time for the boy to be man (man! man!).
Mrs. Prabhakar, give us the boy! (boy! boy!)
The drum beats a wild tattoo, and suddenly all is silent, except for the whistling of the wind, and faint jingling of Rajee’s collar as she happily checks out our mysterious visitors. Actually, that reassures me more than anything else; surely if these men intended me harm she would react more suspiciously. Instead, she sounds like she’s greeting them like old friends, and vice versa.
Of course, for all I know they might be, though its rather hard to imagine any of the men I know acting like this. Plus, I can’t place the Voice — though it is oddly familiar. Regardless, I can’t see anything with my Mom blocking the doorway. I glance at her face, to see if she has any recognition, and am shocked to see tears in her eyes. I didn’t often see my mother cry growing up, though it wasn’t exactly rare.
Just then the words of the chant sink in, and I start shivering. “The Boy” they have come for must be me! Especially with brother Larry being away at band practice or something. A brief thrill courses through me, but is quickly replaced by dread. Who are these strange men? What do they want with me? If their purposes are good, why do they show up un-announced on a winter’s twilight? Yet, if evil, why do they stand at the door respectfully rather than barging in after me?
I look to Mom to give me a clue, but her eyes are closed, and she moves her lips as if praying. Now I’m scared, and I wonder if she’s praying for her life or safety — or mine — but her face doesn’t show fear. Not exactly. More something that I would probably call sorrow, and perhaps something of resignation. Finally, she opens her eyes, and a flash of determination enters them. I hold my breath, wondering whether she is about to chew out the men, or perhaps scream for help. On our quiet little stretch of Drake Ave., surely all the neighbors must’ve heard the noise, and be watching through their windows to make sure we’re all right.
Instead, to my utter amazement, she launches into a chant of her own:
Men of the town, you cannot have this boy.
He is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.
I have nursed him and weaned him, since the day he drew breath.
I have sheltered and held him, taught him and housed him.
The day is dark, and the night is cold.
The house is bright, and the room is warm.
Why on earth should I give you this boy?
At first I breathe a sigh of relief — though tinged with strange sadness — that my Mother will not give me up to these wild men. Then I become worried than her refusal might anger them, leading them to desperate measures.
But instead of getting angry, they laugh! Not a mean, wicked laugh — but a deep, joyous, masculine laugh — the way Jesus must’ve laughed at Hell itself after his death on the cross. And then — just when I think things couldn’t get any weirder — I hear another voice, this one as familiar to me as my own (perhaps more so):
O beautiful Esther, I have come for the boy (come for the boy)
I too have known him for all his young life(all his young life)
He is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh (flesh of my flesh)
And now is the time for the boy to be man (Man! Man! Man!)
As Mr. Prabhakar, I ask for the boy. (Boy! Boy! Boy!)
In disbelief, I finally squeeze past my mother into the doorway, so that my eyes can confirm what my ears already know: there, in the center of a small semi-circle of men, is my very own beaming Father, Rajee sitting happily by his side. As my eyes adjust to the twilight, I suddenly realize I know all these men:
- Harold Mitchell, my scoutmaster.
- Dan Pattyn, who taught me electronics.
- Chuck Engel, my orchestra conductor.
- Men from church: Pastor Place, Mr. Terry, Larry Marty, Les Springmeire, Mr. Tarvestad, Mr. Wendling.
- My sixth grade teacher (whose name I can’t recall, but the only male teacher in grade school)
- The coaches from Junior Tackle football.
- Mr. Sanford, my wrestling coach and chemistry teacher.
- Even my relatives: Nirmal Mama, Vasi & Susi Chellappa, Vasanth Chithappa — including Periappa and Manohor Mama from India
And men I would not know until high school:
- Loren Croche, who led a youth bible study.
- Greg Speck, who would have a huge impact on me as first a conference speaker, then my summer mission’s leader.
- The counselor from computer camp – Jeff? — who first read me “The way of the wolf.”
Then men from college in Boston:
- IVCF staff worker, John Smith
- Park Street Seekers pastor Tony DeOrio
- Philosopher/author Peter Kreeft
- Senior pastor Dr. Paul Toms.
On to graduate school in California, with:
- IVCF-USA staff worker (and founder) Paul Byer
- Mentor Evon Hedley
- Lake Ave. pastor Paul Cedar
- And all the men from 120 Fellowship: Tom Denbo, Eric, Dave Rumph, and of course Peter Wagner.
All standing around, humming “This is my Father’s World.” I recognize all of them, all the men I ever knew, all the different pieces of what I knew about manhood. All except one: the first Voice, a figure in a dark hooded cloak, standing just to the side of the doorway. I can see inside just enough to know he is Indian, and that he is smiling. He seems to about 35 years old. I feel a sudden kinship with him, as I know he is the one who brought all these men together. For me.
Suddenly, the enormity of the situation crashes back down upon me. I look up at my mother, at a complete loss, wondering what to do. As if in answer to my unspoken question, she looks at me sadly and says, “I do not want you to go. But the choice is no longer mine. You must decide.”
I stand, paralyzed with indecision. My mind screams that the whole thing is unfair. I wasn’t warned! Why couldn’t it be in summer? Why can’t my mother come with me? Shouldn’t someone tell me where we’re going, how long we’ll be away, what I should take?
Struggling, I cast a wordless appeal to my Father. He draws near, still smiling, with a deep, fierce joy I’ve never seen before welling up in his face. “Son,” he says, “I want you to come. But the choice is no longer mine. You must decide.”
“Decide what?” I finally squeak out in my breaking, adolescent voice. “What do you want me to do?”
“Put on your shoes, leave your mother, and come with me,” my Father replies.
“Where? For how long? Why?” I ask, pleading, searching for some rational basis for making this momentous decision.
My father grins in reply, yet is as if he never heard me. He simply reaches out his hand and says, “Come!” The word is taken up by the men outside, first as a murmur, then as a chant. Finally the drum picks up the beat: “Come! Come! Come! Come!”
Filled with sudden resolution, I grab my shoes from the front closet, hurriedly lace them on, and rise to go. I toy briefly with the idea of grabbing coat, gloves, hat — but those were not asked for. Either they will be provided, or I will learn how to do without. My heart fills with wild anticipation, and I leap for the door.
Only to be caught up short as I see the pain and tears on my Mother’s face. She’s losing me, and neither of us know when we’ll see each other again. Deep down, both of us realize that if I take one step out that door, I will never be hers again. But I also realize that if I do not take that step, I will never become my Father’s.
Crying myself now, I fling myself into her arms one last time. “I love you,” I whisper. She’s crying too hard for words to be made out, but I think one of them is “goodbye.” The voices outside rise in crescendo, knowing this is the moment of decision. “Come! Come! Come!”
I release my mother, and with tears in my eyes — but no backward glance — I come.
Concluded in Part 2