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Long Beach, CA

Sunday Stories: Naim's Heart

Naim stood there, wondering if he was going to throw the rock.  He felt its weight in his hand.  A satisfying weight.  A strong weight.  He imagined it flying through the air.  He imagined the wonderful noise of the clay jar as it broke. 

On the other hand: he knew he shouldn’t.

On the other: the stone felt like it wanted to fly. 

Should he?  Shouldn’t he?

He did.

And the breaking noise was just as satisfying as he had imagined, somewhere between a cracking and a crunching.  Naim smiled his broad, beautiful smile.

And then his smile faded and he felt an empty feeling creeping up his legs and into his stomach.

But as it turned out, he didn’t have time to feel bad, because his mom—his mom whom he hadn’t realized was at home—was grabbing his arm.

“Naim, what on earth?  What did you throw that?”

Naim looked up into his mother’s beautiful, kind eyes, and burst into tears.  He wasn’t faking, either.  He actually, truly, completely felt sorrow for what he’d done.

“Naim, did you hear me?  Why did you throw that rock?”

“Mom, I don’t know!  Sometimes I don’t know why I do things.  My heart goes this way and then it goes that way, and I don’t understand it.”

His words caught his mom off guard, and she stopped and sighed, and Naim felt her grip on his arm loosen.  A little bit.

“I actually know how that feels Naim.  And I forgive you.  And now I’m going to give you a spanking.”

She did, and that was that.

The next morning Naim got up and went running through the town, whooping and hollering.  In a courtyard, he looked up and saw some kids about his size and about his age, running around in a circle.  He wanted in, so he ran into the fray to discover that a man was standing in the middle of the circle, his eyes closed, reaching out to tag any one who got to close to him.  The man was laughing and spinning and smiling.

Just then some men—who apparently knew the man in the circle—said, “Hey, you kids, get out of here!  Don’t you know how busy our teacher is!”

But the man said, “Hey, don’t send the kids away.  I came to be with kids like this.  You’ve got to become like these kids!” 

So the game kept going.

At one point, Naim got a little over-excited and accidentally ran into the man.  He looked up and the man was looking down at him, and Naim got the strangest feeling, like the man was going to look right through his eyes and into the very center of him. 

Oh, no, Naim thought.  He’s going to see my heart.  He’s going to see that it goes this way and it goes that way!  And as Naim looked into the man’s eyes, he knew the man did see into him.  But then he smiled and rubbed Naim on the head and said, “Tag…you’re it.”  And Naim smiled.

A few weeks passed and the town got busy.  Naim continued to run around, hooting and hollering, when one day he heard a commotion that caught his attention.  People were going crazy with excitement, jumping up and down, kicking up a storm of dust.  “Hosanna!  Hosanna!”  They were yelling.  “Save!  Save now!”  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  They were all so excited.

And then Naim saw him: the man from the game of tag was riding a donkey, and every one was crowding around him, screaming, exultant.

All week long, Naim tried to find out where the man was, sometimes getting close to him, sometimes missing him completely.  Once, he caught Naim’s eyes and waved, but people were always bustling up to him, closing in on him.  It was hard to get very close now. 

Later in the week, Naim went looking for the man, as he had done every day for five days, but he couldn’t find him.  But he did find another commotion.  This time, though, it was not a celebration, and the people were not happy. 

“Crucify him!” the people were yelling, and their faces were filled with rage and scorn.  “Crucify him!” they yelled.  And Naim got scared.  Then Naim saw him: the man was in the middle of a circle, but this was no game, and the man was not smiling.  His face was bloodied, his body exhausted.  “Crucify him!” the people were yelling. 

Once again, Naim burst into tears.  It was at this moment that his mother reached down and grabbed his arm.  “Naim, thank goodness, I didn’t know where…Naim, what’s wrong?  Naim?”

“Momma, look at them!” Naim shouted through his tears.  “What’s wrong with them?  I don’t understand!  Why are they like this?  They’re like me, momma, they go this way, they go that way.  What’s wrong with them?  What’s wrong with their hearts?”

Naim’s mom pulled her son close.  “You are right, my son.  Their hearts to this way and they go that way.  And so does yours.  And so does mine.”

Then she pushed her son away just a bit, so she could look into his eyes.  There were tears in hers, now.  But she smiled a thin but confident smile, and then she pursed her lips.  “And that is why he’s come, Naim.  That is why he’s come.”

She gave her son another hug and then grabbed his hand.  “Come now.  Let’s go home.”

And Naim and his mother left the crowds behind and walked home, hand-in-hand.