"Yea-a-a-a-h" It began as his stock answer to my questions, but with his two-year-old southern drawl, he elaborated as the question sunk in. "Sw-w-wing ... sl-l-lide?" He asked.
"Yep." I answered.
We walked into the enclosed city playground, a wonderland of wood and metal, with bars to climb, secret passages to explore, and swings in which he could fly high as a bird. Shane ran straight to the first slide and jumped on it. Seeing that there was a little boy at the top waiting to go down, I snatched Shane up and redirected him towards the back of the slide.
"I'll help him up," said the boy at the top. "He can go down in front of me." With that he jumped off the ladder and waited for Shane's slow and unsteady climb up to the top. They descended the slide, one after the other, over and over until they were both nearly dizzy. With the boy's suggestion, they bounded over to the swinging bridge where he jumped up and down on one end making Shane spring across, belly laughing all the while.
"His name is Shane. What's your name?" I asked as I guided Shane across.
"Christopher ... and that's my Dad." He said in one breath. I looked over to acknowledge the person he was speaking of and to say, "Hello." When I did, my eyes met with a middle-aged man sitting on the park bench. He stared back at me, but did not offer a response. He was dirty, with torn clothes, and he looked tired and weary. Quickly, I turned back to Christopher and resumed our conversation.
"How old are you?"
"I'm 4, well my birthday's next week." He replied.
"Oh really, well happy birthday. Will you have a big party?"
"I don't know ... maybe. Nobody will come. Nobody came last year." He turned his head from me and looked at his Father. Not knowing how to react, I changed the subject and the boys kept playing. Everything that Christopher did, Shane would attempt to imitate. He laughed hysterically when Christopher ran and dove headfirst onto a swing and went sailing through the air. The two short years that separated them was a lifetime in Shane's eyes. He watched his every move.
As they rounded the corner to head down the slide again, we heard his father's voice, "Come on son ... we gotta go." Christopher jumped down from the ladder, ran towards the man, and never looked back. I watched as the young boy followed closely behind his father across the long parking lot towards their car. I wondered what kind of "grown-up" worries that little guy must have.
Suddenly Shane came whishing down the slide, grinning ear-to-ear, eager to find his friend for one more trip. He soon realized that Christopher was gone.
"He had to leave with his Daddy, honey." I pointed towards the pair in the parking lot. I watched as Shane faintly, almost sadly, waved his hand in the air towards his friend. He looked down at the sand and his bottom lip began to slightly protrude. This newfound friendship was special to Shane, but now he was gone. I found the look in his eyes strangely familiar, though this was the first time he'd ever experienced this. In his eyes, I saw myself and the times when someone has walked out of my life with them not fully knowing how special I thought they were to me.
That afternoon, I said a prayer ... that God would teach me to convey my true feelings and never let a Christopher walk from my life without knowing what he means to me. I had no idea just how fully God intended to answer that prayer.
About two weeks after the day at the playground, my brother and I said the words, "I love you," for the very first time in our lives. My brother ... Chris ... and I have always had a tough time communicating.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)