Footsteps on the Stairs

The six year old boy beside the easy chair has appeared, not quite silently, from the upper floor of the big old house.  It is well past the hour when he was sent to bed, and his parents assumed that he was asleep hours ago.  They are sitting in the living room, still commiserating about the same subject they had discussed with the children earlier that evening, when they heard his footsteps on the stairs, plopping down each one of the fourteen treads, one halting step at a time.  The young lad from the upper regions evidently wants to discuss the subject with them also.

Some parents keep their affairs secret from their children because they are afraid to burden them. They want their kids to have a carefree childhood, free from the problems of the world.  It is a viewpoint that is not without merit, but this family had determined some time before this that they would talk (and pray) about their problems forthrightly, in just the same way they rejoiced openly over their victories and blessings.  They had learned earlier in the day that a debt, which they hadn’t even realized was owed, would be due within the next week or so.  It was of significant size.  Rather than whisper about the issue, it was spoken of openly at the dinner table with the children present that evening.  The thought that either of the children would lie awake and worry about their conversation hadn’t occurred to the young parents, so they are concerned.

“What’s wrong, buddy?  Are you upset?” his dad asks.  The boy has a pensive look on his face as he replies, “No, not really.  I just wanted to talk with you about something.”  They are relieved, but know that more is coming.  It is not at all what they are expecting.  “I know you need money.  I have some I want you to use.”  As he speaks the words slowly, the little fellow is holding out both hands, one full of wadded up dollar bills and the other running over with pennies, nickels, and quarters.  The couple is dumbstruck for a moment.  The boy has emptied his piggy bank of every cent.  He is saving for a skate board and has been working at different tasks for his grandparents and parents to earn the money for it.  This is more important to him.

Struggling to hide the tears, and with his voice quivering just a little, the young dad takes the money from the boy and thanks him.  He then has the presence of mind to ask the young man if it would be all right if the money stayed in his piggy bank until it was time to pay the amount owed.  “That way, if enough money comes in from our other income, we might be able to leave some of this for your skate board.”  The boy thinks a moment, then smiles while he nods his little head and, hugging his dad and mom, turns to make the trek back up the stairway.  Unlike the trip down a few moments before, his steps are light and quick as he dashes back up to bed.

It was over twenty years ago, but the evening is burned into my head indelibly.  I do remember having two conflicting thoughts as the little tyke disappeared around the corner to go back to bed.  The first was an apprehension that we might have weighed the children down with more than they should be expected to comprehend at their young age.  I still struggle with that.  But, the second thought was a feeling of pride in the character of our young son.  In the face of  trouble, he gave selflessly of what he had to meet the need.  I was proud…of him.  Come to think of it, I still am.  You see, the emerging character in a young child, when nourished and encouraged, becomes the strong character of the grown man.

I told the story some time ago to a friend and he assured me that children learn character from their parents.   While I won’t insist on it, I actually think that in this case, the parents learn character from their children.  The selfless act of that little boy many years ago has inspired me on many occasions over the intervening years.

We do learn character from each other.  I’ve noticed recently that Liberty Mutual Insurance has a series of commercials running on television which really don’t sell a product at all, except by association.  I like the concept.  “People doing the right thing”, they say, showing case after case of individuals seeing one person helping another and then responding in kind.  I’m not sure that the world works that way, but it should.  It is what our Creator expects of His own.  “And let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

I’ve never given everything I have to help someone.  Someday, I just might follow in that little boy’s footsteps. 

They’ll be hard ones to fill.

“While we teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”
(Anonymous)

“So encourage each and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
(I Thessalonians 5:11~NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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