|"Thorn and Sparrows" by Brian Kershisnik|
A boy who usually comes late and almost never says anything stood up at the front of the classroom and looked at the other students in the class and said, “I want to tell you a story.” The story was about his great uncle. “I wasn’t really close to him,” he said, “but I really loved him. He lived on this big field, this farm. He always laughed. He made everyone laugh. He was my grandfather’s brother. He was very old. He was out walking, and something happened to him and he fell down, he like collapsed. He could not stand, and his wife did not know where he was. He lay on the ground in his field for a very long time and it was cold and then his wife finally found him and took him to the hospital. My family went to sit with him at the hospital, and we were all, you know, crying and stuff, because the doctors said that he was going to die. He was very old.” The boy looked in the eyes of the other students and then looked away and continued his story. “He was telling jokes and we were laughing and crying. I mean, he was dying and he was making people laugh. He was such a nice person. And then he said, ‘Why are you all crying? Isn’t it time for General Conference? Somebody find a TV.’ So we found a TV and set it up in his bedroom. And he was dying and he just wanted to listen to the prophet, and he was so happy all the time, and I thought, ‘I maybe should want to watch Conference.’ So next time I am going to watch it more. And now I know he’s up there with God. And, well, that’s really all I wanted to say.” He sat down and no one said anything. But they didn’t really need to. He had pretty much said it all.
And then this big old football player boy said, “Well, I was going to play a song on the piano, but since my, you know, my concussion, I don’t remember some things too well. And I can’t really read music, but I have played since I was three just by ear, and I, well, I’ll just play what I can remember.” And he sat and played something that sounded like grace. Why does it always surprise me when boys like that have magical fingers?
And a girl said, “You know, the scriptures don’t really say what the angel did in the Garden of Gethsemane to comfort Christ, just that an angel came and comforted Him. And I kind of wish it said how he did it because I have a lot of friends and some in my family who struggle with depression, and I sometimes wonder what I can do. But I think I might know some of what the angel did. My dad has this sign by his bed that says, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ And I think sometimes people just need us to stand there, by them. You know? They just need to know straight up that we are going to love them no matter what. And then we need to actually do it. To make good on our word.”
And a boy who grew up in Samoa and has more cousins than I have days on my calendar said, “When I was ten my mother died, and ten days later my best friend died. And it was in the tenth month. And so now people ask me why I always choose the number ten for my football jersey, and I tell them about my mom and my friend. And some people think that’s weird, but it’s like, I don’t want to forget them, and the number ten reminds me of them and makes me want to play better and to be better because, like, I know they are looking down on me, and, well, I want to, you know, make them proud and live to see them again. And I know I will. So ten is a hopeful number to me. I don’t know if you get it, but it is.”
And a big, strong, silent boy said more words than I’d ever heard, and I had never noticed that he sort of has a lisp, and it made me wonder if that’s why he’s so strong and so silent. And it made me wish I had known he had a lisp before today. Man, have I never heard him say enough words to know that? You know?
And another quiet boy—the younger brother of two boisterous, gregarious boys I have taught before, a boy who one day told me, “I am not my brothers”—this boy said, “Everybody gets sad. And if the great sorrow has not descended on you yet, you are not off the hook, because it might one day. You never know, you know? So you kind of have to be patient with people. And you have to know that God always loves you, you know?”
And a girl told about her friend who doesn’t believe in God and this girl in my class “sort of tricked her,” as she said, to come to her grandma’s house and listen to the apostles speak at Conference. And in the first talk this atheist girl heard, someone shared that scripture from Matthew 22: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And this girl in my class looked over and her friend was crying. “And she’s sort of a tough girl, and she never cries. And I asked her why she was crying. And she just said, ‘That scripture was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.’” And that girl in my class sat down, and we all sat there thinking about that. The most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Love. Love was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. And I sat there thinking that it was probably the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, too. You know?