The Open Dimension

Commentary on social issues; politics; religion and spirituality

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Location: Laguna Hills, California, United States

I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Hindustani classical music, yoga, meditation and spirituality.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Tribute To Bob Lewis: A Boy's Life In The 1950s

I just had my 66th birthday. I don’t know, I guess you start having flashbacks to your early days. But anyway the other night I was having trouble sleeping-- sleeping off and on; and at one point it flashed into my mind: “What ever happened to Bobby Lewis?” Bob Lewis was a classmate of mine in elementary school in a small New Jersey town in the 1950s. He was also in the local scout troop with me. I haven’t had any contact with him in about 56 years- and have hardly given him any thought at all. But I finally realized only a few days ago what a major influence for good Bobby had been in my life. I was about 10 the last time I saw him. Fifth grade.

As for me at the time, I could have hardly been described as a well-adjusted kid. People considered me “serious.” I stayed mostly in my room at home and was ill-at-ease around people. I thought a lot about questions such as “ If God created the world, what was here before that?” and I’d drive myself crazy trying to imagine space as being somehow “bricked up;” but then I’d realize that packed-up bricks were something- not nothing- so that they couldn’t have been here either- nor the space which they would have filled- which was also “something.” I gave myself some relief from these metaphysical conundrums by reading comic books intermittently or by playing with my toy cars and trucks.

My report cards were good; but I was starting to have problems vis-a-vis “conduct.” I was bored all the time; wasn’t paying much attention to the teachers; and was doing “class-clown” stuff to interrupt the classes and get attention. And I was starting to develop a problem with “sick headaches” which would often last for as long as two days during which I’d have to stay in a dark room with the back of my head feeling like someone was pounding it with a mallet; and I’d be throwing up constantly. I was really turning into a wreck of a kid.

One day, as I was leaving school Bob Lewis, whom I hardly knew, came up to me and said “ Hey, Al, you want to go get some praying-mantis cocoons?” Well, I knew what a praying mantis was and they basically gave me the creeps; but a cocoon I didn’t know from a hole in the wall. But for some reason I answered “OK.” And that was the beginning of my friendship with Bobby, a friendship that was all too brief and which I’ve forgotten about almost entirely for 56 years.

The town we lived in- Wood-Ridge- was about a mile square and was bordered on one side by a woodland area that I knew very little about prior to exploring it with Bob, who knew every square inch of it and just about everything about its flora and fauna. He knew exactly where the mantis and butterfly cocoons were and when they would hatch. He knew where the various kinds of turtles and chameleons and frogs were. He knew all about the plants and berries and mushrooms and what was good to eat and what wasn’t. He could identify all the birds and small animals that inhabited the woods. He knew where the good trees were for climbing. And he revealed it all to me all so knowledgably but in a way that somehow conveyed a sense of total wonder. He could have written an article for Boys Life magazine.

And then there was Bobby’s basement. Good Lord, it was a world in itself: The electric trains and the model planes and ships; the gadgets and the gizmos. The transition from nature to technology was incredible; and again Bob knew all the whys and wherefores and hows; and he gave of his knowledge with generosity and not a shred of ego. What he enjoyed was to be shared unreservedly. His enthusiasm was so catching. And it took you out of yourself.

That was the thing about Bob Lewis: He didn’t seem to have a bit of ego. His interest in the world around him was all-consuming and in-depth; and it didn’t even occur to him to be involved in any kind of nonsense. He was completely non-obtrusive. He wasn’t self-assertive; he didn’t argue; he didn’t fight; he didn’t gossip; he didn’t criticize; he didn’t complain. I think I remember a couple of times when kids tried to tease him about something or another. His reaction was a kind of good-natured non-reaction that said: “I have better things to do.” He could handle anything. In a certain very real sense Bob was a man at 10.

I guess my friendship with Bob went on for about a year. We explored the woods in summer, fall, winter and spring and also got into the local Cub-Scout troop, which kept us busy with projects. Needless to say, my psychological and physical health had taken a decided turn for the better and life was looking pretty good.

Well then came the transfer. My family was Catholic and I guess Bob’s family was Protestant if they were affiliated with any organized religion at all. The Catholic church in town was stressing the importance of getting a “Catholic education,” which conveyed pretty clearly to parishioners that they were missing the mark if they were sending their kids to public school instead of the parochial school run by the parish. So my folks finally decided to transfer me to Catholic school for my sixth-grade year. The whole transfer procedure is vague and foggy in my memory; but the September after I had completed fifth grade in public school I found myself in sixth grade in Catholic school.

Catholic schools in those days discouraged their students from associating with non- Catholic groups. For instance we were forbidden to join the YMCA but had to go to CYO ( Catholic Youth Organization ) instead. There was still a strong tinge of the “outside-the-Church- there-is-no-salvation” mentality; and Catholic kids were encouraged to stick together and not consort with the opposition. This was all well before ecumenism. A lot of people today would deny that that was the case; but nevertheless it was.

So that was that. I found myself in a new world. Public school- and Bob Lewis- were part of my past. I never met up with him again. I guess he went on and graduated from elementary school and the public high-school. And I went on and graduated from Catholic school and then attended a Catholic prep school which was located in another city. And life continued. And except for a rare passing thought I totally forgot about Bob for fifty-six years- until the other night when I realized what a God-sent gift he had been to me and how much I owed him.

A good person like that can be swallowed up by a not-so-good world; but somehow I don’t think that was the case with Bob. As I mentioned earlier, he could handle things. And he had it together. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually became an Eagle Scout. God I wish I could know what became of him.

Sorry I flew the coop, Bob. And whatever you became and wherever you are, my dear friend and teacher, thank you. I pray life has been kind to you and that it will always shower you with every blessing.