Lost And Alone
The bus picked us up at 7:15 am. I was eight years old and I was excited! Somehow we had learned of some special programs Portage Central had put together for kids during the summer! Portage Central would become the rival high school years later. For now it was a place to go for a morning of fun! Don was eleven and a friend of mine. He was the neighborhoods best athlete. Don was a big kid for his age. He was a husky kid who just naturally excelled in any sport he tried. After high school he was drafted by the White Sox! He ended up taking a college scholarship and today is a baseball coach in Florida. In the neighborhood football games Don would be on one side and one of the kids his age would captain the other. Don always played, but on the other side the trio was either Dave, Chris, or Mike. One thing was constant in those pickup football games. I was always on Don’s team! Don took a liking to me and I was thrilled. I was just a little kid, small for my age. My other friends were all much bigger. In football my size was a disadvantage when it came to tackling those big kids. Don took care of that because nobody ever got by him. My strength was receiving his passes. He always played quarterback and I don’t remember ever seeing anyone tackle him. They would be grabbing at his legs and he would stand there like a tree and throw the ball way down field. Being small I could sneak behind the enemy lines and many times catch his long throws. One time we were playing at night. The field we played on was maybe thirty yards from goal line to goal line. On this night Don threw the ball way up in the air from one end to the other and each time I was catching it for touchdowns! Don didn’t see any of my catches it was so dark. He asked after each throw what happened and the other team reluctantly told him I caught it again! After one of the last of several touchdowns that night Don looked at me and said “you are the best I have ever seen!” For an eight year old kid coming from his hero of the neighborhood I don’t know if my feet hit the ground going home that night!
Don was going to be on that bus too! You see one of the programs that Portage Central was running was called “The Baseball Clinic.” Kids from eight to twelve would meet at the Portage Central school and be instructed on the fundamentals of baseball. Usually after a teaching session we would be divided up and games would be played. In later years I remember several games played where we were divided according to our ages. That first year there was usually one game as there weren’t that many kids and all of the ages were combined. Talk about feeling over matched as I was batting at eight against an eleven or twelve year old pitcher! My glove was always ahead of my batting. My dad would take me out in the yard and play catch with me often! We always had games in the neighborhood too and fielding was my thing! In those early years I always wanted to be the catcher. That very rarely happened as the instructors must have thought I was too small and might get hurt. I guess I just liked the fact that the catcher wore all of that equipment! I remember a year or two later I asked the instructor if I could catch and he looked at me and said “you do so well at shortstop, why do you want to catch?” One time when I was eight they did put me back there. With that big equipment on I must have looked like the kid from mars as the shin guards went all of the way up my legs. One thing was for sure that day, nothing was going to hurt me! All of my body had some kind of protection from head to toe and the equipment actually overlapped. No need to crouch either as I could just stand and catch I was so small.
From that first day I discovered why the bus came so early. It had to make several stops to pick kids up. My sister would sometimes come along and go to the arts and crafts program they were running. They had several other special programs too, but the main program was summer school. Back then if you didn’t do well in classes you had to go to summer school. Although several of us were on the bus for the special programs, most of the kids were on there for summer school.
I loved the baseball clinic! Watching Don play in those games I realized that not only was he the best in my neighborhood, he was also the best player at the clinic! It was an honor for me to be his friend because I was simply in awe of him! Don had friends his own age that he hung around with too. I would tag along with them. I needed to tag along because there was usually about an hour from the time the clinic ended until we would catch the bus for home. There were several buses too. I guess I never bothered to think independently back then. As long as I was with Don, he knew what bus to take and what our bus number was, when it would come, and where it would be. After the games we usually went to a little store down the road where we could buy candy and pop! My usual thing was to buy a can of pop (usually rock n rye), that was ice cold and some Turkish Taffy which was banana flavored! How I loved that combination of the cold pop and the chewy candy! It was something to look forward to after a hot morning on the baseball diamond!
This particular day started out like the rest. The baseball clinic lasted for six weeks on weekdays during the summer and this was one of those. We played our games and went to the store afterwards and all of that. Somehow though, when I looked around Don and his friend were gone. I don’t know if he didn’t know how much I depended on him or what happened? Suddenly here I was miles and miles from home (probably eight miles but to a kid it felt like a million). I walked all around looking for Don but he wasn’t to be found. All the while I am getting scared out of my mind! My dad was working and my mom didn’t have a car, so even if I thought of calling home (which I didn’t), I wouldn’t have had success. The more I wandered around that area looking for Don at every turn, the more scared I got. I was alone and lost I thought. There was no way home and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t see any buses and I figured after awhile that I must have missed it. Confused, scared, and at my wits end I tried to open the door of the school to find some help.
The door was one of those steel doors and there were several of them all in a row. To my despair all of them were locked. At this point I started crying uncontrollably. I started pounding on that door with everything that I had. After a minute or two I heard some life. An older gentlemen maybe in his fifties heard the commotion and came to the door. He must have been surprised to see a little eight year old kid decked in his baseball cap and carrying his glove crying uncontrollably. I sputtered out how that I didn’t have a ride home and had missed the bus. Without hesitation that kindly old man (well he seemed very old to me that day), told me he would take me home. I don’t remember the details of what his car looked like. I don’t know if he worked alone or how he was able to just leave work and take a stranded kid home, but he did! Obviously this was the days before any navigating tools. I told him if he could get to Portage Road I could direct him from there. He did and he complimented me on knowing the way home. I’m sure this guy has long since departed, but what he did for me that day will live in my heart as one of the kindest things anyone ever did! I needed someone desperately. Looking back I didn’t even know his name and he didn’t know mine, but he offered a helping hand in my hour of need!
Perhaps you are at a place that I was on that day years ago. Maybe you thought you could count on someone or something and all of the sudden you discovered you couldn’t. Perhaps the people who are heroes in your life have let you down. Maybe you feel lost and confused as you struggle to keep going. Maybe like me you want to bang on that door in frustration. There is a door that will lead you home! It will not be going back to the old way of life where hope is lost and heroes fade. Just as that janitor did the kind deed for me that day, Jesus wants to take you home. He wants to take you from desperation to hope! He wants to take you from your lost and alone state to a place where there is purpose and peace! You won’t have to pound on that door like I did. A gentle knock will bring Jesus to you. He won’t have to ask what is wrong. He will take the role of your hero, as he leads you by the hand to hope and victory!