(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.— Second
So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
— Mark 2:2-4
Three Flights of Stairs
When we sold the house that I grew up in, there were a few things that I wanted as remembrances. I wanted the rocking chair that Grandma Jenkins rocked my father in, I wanted a green bowl from the kitchen because it reminded me of my mother’s potato salad, and I wanted Hosea’s hat.
The brown hat with the unusual band hung on a pole light in our living room. Originally, my father told me that it was a hat from the Civil War. Later, I learned that it was Hosea’s hat. Hosea was the large black man that carried me up three flights of stairs to my third grade classroom in Riveria Elementary School, in La Grande, Oregon.
Riveria was one of the oldest elementary schools in my hometown. It was three-story brick structure built at the turn of the century. The third grade classroom was on the third floor. In the year of my third grade I was up to broken leg number eight or so. I had remembered them along the line of … “one broken leg every year for the first thirteen years of my life.” This broken leg had resulted in a body cast.
My father had strong views on making my life as “normal” as it could be for a boy who broke his leg like other boy’s broke wind. He went head to head with school officials to allow me to attend third grade. They had grave concerns. How would I manage three flights of stairs to the classroom? Where would I sit? And the delicate question of how I would go to the bathroom as need arose. Some questions were answered more easily than others. I would go to the bathroom by being wheeled into the nurses’ station and provided with an empty milk carton. The County Health department would provide us with a wheelchair in which I could lay down as my body cast required. And Hosea would carry me up three flights of stairs each day.
Hosea was a large black man with a gold tooth. In my small town in eastern Oregon there were not a lot of black people. I never knew how my father had met Hosea and arranged for him to carry me up three flights of stairs. Hosea preferred to be called “Hosie.” He was a quiet man who rarely spoke as he carried me up to my classroom. I recall his smile as he laid me in the antique wheelchair. His gold tooth gleamed amidst his white teeth in contrast to this ebony skin. I hoped that I remembered to say thank you for such an intimate act of kindness.
Once in my wicker throne, life simply became the activities of third grade: spelling, arithmetic, reading, and daydreaming. Miss Wilson, my teacher, was a spinster and tolerated very little social intercourse or misbehavior. She was dour and took no delight in the extra burden I added to her teaching assignment. It was only on rare occasion that I asked to be wheeled to the nurse’s station to pee in a milk carton.
One of the things that broke the monotony of weeks in our classroom was fire drill. These drills were orchestrated with great precision. There was to be no horseplay and they were to be done quickly, quietly and efficiently. The choice was made that I would burn and die in the classroom in case of fire. There was never a scenario in which I was evacuated during the drill. They did decide, however, that I should not be left alone during the fire drill and so Earl Davis was chosen to die with me in case of fire. While our classmates marched in pairs down the three flights of stairs to the safety of the playground, Earl and I would remain in the classroom. I was glad that it was Earl. He knew how to draw realistic dinosaurs and was happy to show me at blackboard how to draw them for myself. When the class returned the blackboard would be filled with a magnificent assortment of prehistoric creatures. There was never an actual fire at the school and a decade later fire escapes were added to the outside of the decaying brick building.
At the end of the day, Hosea would come and carry me down the three flights of stairs to my father’s station wagon. My father sought to give me an ordinary life and instead gave me an extraordinary one.
A HOLE IN THE ROOF
There is a story Jesus tells of friends who carry a paralyzed friend up a flight of stairs to a rooftop. They break a hole in the roof and lower him into the presence of Jesus. They had the firm conviction that Jesus would heal their friend.
But it has crossed my mind, “How often did they carry him prior to their hair-brained scheme of breaking and entering the Master’s house?” How are such friendships formed in which we are prepared to carry another? How is character built in us in such a way that we allow ourselves to be carried?
In my living room are grandmother’s rocking chair and Hosea’s hat. Bury me in Hosea’s hat. I know that I will never make it to heaven unless Hosea is there to carry me. The least I can do is return his hat.