Standing in the Gap

The boy stood in the doorway, his back to me.  As I walked into the room, the six year old glanced back at me with a pleading look that said, “Help me!”  The shadow of an unknown person loomed outside the front door, held at bay by nothing more than a half-opened door and one very determined young man.

Perhaps I should explain.  It was Sunday afternoon and the dinner of the week was about to be served.  The family was gathering and the table had begun to sag under the dishes of food which were appearing upon it one by one.  With company from out of town, extra places had been set and all was very close to ready.  We were, however still missing a couple of our guests.

“Uncle Stephen’s here!”  I heard the yell from the living room and as soon as I could get my hands clean from the roast beef carving job, I headed that way.  The scene described above was what met my eye.  One of the grandchildren, thinking that a favorite member of our group was at the door, met him there only to find that it was someone he had never seen before.  The wise old man he opened the door to was one of the group who was to sit at our table that day, but the boy had no knowledge of that.

Quickly I rectified the problem, introducing our guest to the boy.  Satisfied, he flung open the door and, job completed, headed off to play with his siblings (and possibly to pilfer a bit of the roast).  The man at the door was amused.

“He opened the door and asked, ‘Who are you?’  I told him my name and asked if I could come in and he just held the door tightly and said thoughtfully, ‘I don’t know.’  I didn’t think I was ever going to get in to see what that delicious smell was.”

Our esteemed guest came into the house, followed closely by the popular Uncle Stephen, and we ate.  No.  We did more than eat.  We feasted.  It wasn’t merely food that we feasted upon, but the joy of life with people we love.

There was more noise than one could imagine–children’s voices mixed with the sudden laughter at corny jokes told, and as many as three conversations going at once.  The joyous cacophony continued as plates were filled and refilled.  Then, as the need for food passed, the crowd thinned a little and finally, there were just three of us left of the original fifteen, talking, and teaching, and learning from each other.

Around us, the swirl of activity moved, almost unnoticed, a child tearing through the dining room here, a plate removed from the table there, but still we talked.  The habit of centuries–fellowship at a meal before words of wisdom shared.  We left the table full, and not just of food.

But, there is more to be said about the boy at the door, I think.  Later, as I reflected on the day, I remembered that much of our conversation after dinner had been about our responsibility to others: to guard, as well as to guide.  All through life, we fill that place of protection for someone.

As children, it is for our younger siblings.  Then we grow and we marry, protecting each other from the darts that are slung–by stranger and by family member, by co-worker and jealous acquaintance.  The children arrive and our role is expanded exponentially as dangers abound.  Then the children grow up and we have our own parents to look out for and guide through the minefield of old age. We never stop learning, and teaching, and protecting.  At least, we never should.

What of the boy holding the door?  In my mind, I see him standing there, pitted against the unknown aggressor outside the door.  Already, he is a protector, guarding my home from danger in the only way he knows how.  Six years old, and he understands that he must do his best to stand in the path of uncertainty, blocking the way until reinforcements arrive.

It may only be a boy standing in a doorway, but I see the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings standing on the stone bridge in Moria, facing an enemy that he cannot defeat, bellowing out, “You shall not pass!”

I will admit that some of our after-dinner conversation was of defeat and loss, as we bemoaned the habit of many in the world today to abandon their responsibility to others and to God.  But, as I considered our discussion in the light of the episode at the front door, my spirits began to lift and I realized once again that there is hope yet.

A boy who knows his place at age six gives promise that better is coming.

Lessons learned from wise old men and brave young boys are not soon forgotten.

Hmmm–Is that the doorbell I hear?  Can someone get that?

“I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall…, but I found no one.”
(Ezekiel 22:30b~NLT)

Happy are those who dare courageously to defend what they love.”
(Ovid~Roman poet~43 BC-17 AD)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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