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The small boy circled the driveway on his bicycle, struggling to hold on to the high handlebars. When he turned, the wheels wobbled with uncertainty.
He stopped when he saw me, a tall man with a backpack, walking along the street near his house in Lawrence.
“Hi!” he cried out enthusiastically.
I stopped and turned. I hadn’t expected him to speak, my being a stranger, and young boys so often admonished not to talk to strangers.
“Hi,” I said, smiling as I took in the disparity of this bug of a boy standing beside his towering bike. Then I turned and began to make my way toward home.
My new friend wasn’t ready for me to leave just yet, though. He had something important to share.
“You know,” he said, “my uncle just got here from Germany.”
The boy got back on the bike and began to pedal again, now that he had my attention. He followed the same path around the perimeter of the long driveway, turning at the open garage and guiding the bike back toward the street where I stood. He spoke as he rode, and I was able to make out his words only when he turned in my direction.
“From Germany?” I asked with appropriate amazement.
“Yeah,” the boy said, pursing his lips and nodding his head proudly. “He drove, and it took him two days.”
His tone indicated that two days was a long time. A very long time.
“Are you sure he drove?” I asked. “Germany is an awfully long ways away.”
“Oh yeah,” the boy said. “He just got here today. From Germany. It took him two days.”
The boy babbled as he made another round in the driveway, and I was never sure whether he was talking to me, talking to himself, or just talking, talking the way little boys sometimes need to talk – about important stuff.
“We drove to Germany once,” he said, guiding his bike beneath a tree and then toward me. “And it took us two days. Just like it took my uncle two days.”
“And you’re sure you drove?” I asked.
He nodded all the way to the garage.
“Germany is on the other side of the ocean,” I said. “Are you sure you didn’t take a ship or a plane?”
He stopped his bike again and gave me a how-dare-you look. A moment later, he shook his head. “Oh no,” he said. “We took the way that has lots of bridges.”
Just then his father opened the front door and called him in to supper. He made two more loops around the driveway, then parked his bike and tramped inside.
I was relegated again to the role of stranger, left to myself to figure out how to get from Lawrence, Kansas, to Germany by car in two days. As I walked down the hill, I talked to myself, the way grown men sometimes need to talk to themselves – about perplexing things.
I thought about the times that others had tried to tear down the creations I had so proudly built. And I wished that I again had the resiliency of a little boy.
I thought about all the seemingly impossible tasks that people had tossed in my path. And I wished that I again had the imagination of a little boy.
I thought about how the summer days of a middle-age man never seemed to stretch on carefree and forever. And I wished that I again had the calendar of a little boy.
I wondered when I had stopped circling my bicycle in the driveway and why I so rarely tried to attract the attention of strangers. I wondered when the adult world – a world of oceans that can’t be driven across, of tasks undone and summer days so short – had chased away the little boy who used to live inside me.
I stopped, looked back at the empty driveway and contemplated, contemplated the way I so often do when I walk. I contemplated the sight of all those bridges in the Atlantic Ocean (or was it the Pacific?) and wondered who might be traveling on them right now. If a little boy could span continents with his imagination, what might a grown man do?
I decided to give myself a couple of days to think about it.