Baby Boy

Ted Jackson reclined on a park bench at lunch thinking about what it was like to turn 30.

The overcast sky had provided him a brief respite from the drizzling rain, and so he decided to stroll through a nearby park during his lunch hour. He wasn’t much hungry, because his mind was full of thoughts, about Clydene, about love, about progress, about failure, about meaning.

When he had sat on the bench, he felt its moist coating leech through his pant legs. Normally the feeling would make him jump up in disgust, but today, he just didn’t care one way or the other. He didn’t suffer the chill breeze that gusted in his face. Neither did he enjoy the moist, fresh aroma of a late summer day cleansed by the rain. His mind was too full of other thoughts.

Ted didn’t usually feel discouraged, because he didn’t allow himself to feel discouraged. But sometimes life’s frustrations mounted and built inside of him, until he did something stupid, and that’s what had happened today.

He blew up at a client, a wealthy, important client whom he was representing in an ongoing criminal case. He almost lost the firm the case, which was only saved by removing Ted from it and promising to discipline him severely.

He was never going to make partner this way.

And it wasn’t like he really did anything wrong. Yeah, maybe he did overreact a little, but it’s not like the guy didn’t have it coming to him. This jerk-wad was guilty as sin, wanted a miracle acquittal, and refused to level with Ted, withheld fundamental information about the case. Ted should have just told him to get lost, but his boss wouldn’t have heard of it.

Ted shook his head at the stupidity of it all.

Then his mind wandered to Clydene. He had met Clydene last month, packing envelopes for a political campaign. Ted usually didn’t have time for such activities, but there were some causes he was passionate about, and he made a little time once in a while for them. That particular weekend, it paid off, because he met Clyde, long, fiery hair, curly, sweet-smelling springs of red silk, running down past her shoulders, with a pale, freckled complexion and brown eyes, delicate, arched eyebrows, and a voice that struck like a cutlass into his soul. Even now, Ted longed to reach out and touch her, because she had touched his soul as no other woman.

When they went out that one time, she seemed to understand his mind. She spoke the words he thought, which he would never say. He had never met someone with whom he had connected that deeply. It excited him with a whole new series of thoughts and feelings.

But that was over.

They hadn’t broken up— Hell, they had hardly dated! And they were still friends. But Ted had his career to think about, as did Clyde, along with her community work. That’s where their priorities were. Neither one of them was ready to become attached. So they decided to go their separate ways.

That was another decision that didn’t seem to be working out as it should.

Today, Ted turned 30, and he really thought by now he would have made partner and gotten married. But he wasn’t, not even close, and he even felt his life slipping backward. He actually considered giving up on what he had, changing direction completely, because he did not feel as though he had accomplished anything worthwhile. Thirty years, a milestone: if not an accomplishment, then a setback.

Even so, if one were to regard him, one would not be able to discern the myriad thoughts swirling within his mind, or how much they disturbed him, because though Ted had no trouble telling others what to do, he rarely revealed to them the inner sanctum of his mind.

Ted’s attention was suddenly drawn to an elderly Jewish gentleman, wearing a kippah, who came hobbling along the path, with each step supporting one side of his body with a cane, which made a clacking noise as it hit the asphalt, then dragging the opposite foot as he unsuccessful tried to lift it. C-Clack, scrape. C-Clack, scrape.

He stumbled up to the bench on which Ted was reclining. “May I sit for a moment?” he asked with a smile.

Ted nodded. “Sure. Help yourself.”

He collapsed on the bench, and before he hit the seat, he began making small-talk with Ted. He spoke in a gentle, soothing voice that mesmerized, like the voice of a hypnotist. He talked about the weather, the rain, the sun, the flowers. Ted nodded, hardly aware of what the man was saying, but also no longer thinking his own thoughts.

“Everything all right, son?” the man said.

“Huh?” Ted must have drifted off.

“Am I boring you?” He chuckled.

“No, but nothing in my life is working as it ought to.” Ted had already spoken the words before he realized what he was saying.

“Hmm.” The man paused, his hand resting on his cane.

He continued. “We have a story like that in our tradition.”

“Yeah?” Ted asked.

“There was a man named Elkanah, who had two wives. One of his wives, P’ninnah gave him many sons and daughter. Now, this was back in the day, you understand, when it was very important for a man to have many children to carry on his legacy.”

Ted nodded.

“But his other wife, Hannah…” He shook his head. “Not so many children. As a matter of fact, Hannah had no children at all. Whenever she had gotten pregnant, she had lost the child. So not only did she not have any children, she also suffered the loss of every child she ever might have had.

“Now, Elkanah loved both of his wives very much, and he loved Hannah especially. So each year, when they traveled up to the Tabernacle at Shiloh—which back then was the Holy City of Israel— Elkanah would give each of his wives a part of the sacrifice, but he gave Hannah twice as much.

“I personally think he felt sorry for her and wanted to make her feel special.

“But, eh, that kind of backfired on Hannah. P’ninnah didn’t take too kindly to playing second fiddle, and she taunted Hannah every chance she got. She made fun of her for having no children, and did everything she could think of to make Hannah feel miserable, until Hannah was so upset, she sank into depression and wouldn’t eat. She just sat and cried.

“This happened every year. And so Elkanah came to her, and held her head, and caressed her, and said to her, ‘Please don’t cry. Don’t you know that I love you? And aren’t I worth more to you than even ten sons?’

“But Hannah continued to feel bad.”

Ted knew the feeling.

“So she went to the Tabernacle, and she prayed to God. She was so upset, she couldn’t even speak the words. She just silently wept and whispered to herself, hoping that God would hear her thoughts. And she made God a promise, that if he gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God’s service.

“But the priest saw her and thought she was drunk. And he scolded her, ‘How long will you keep getting drunk!?’

“So that’s what she got for her trouble.

“She pleaded with him, though, that she had not drunk at all, but that she was in grief and pouring out her soul to God.

“So the priest softened his voice and blessed her and said, ‘May God grant you what you’ve asked.'”

At this point, the old, Jewish man struggled to his feet and began to move on. Ted had been transfixed by the man’s story and felt as though he had now been cut off mid-stream. He was bewildered that the man would get up and walk away, just like that, without finishing the story.

“So, how did it turn out?” Ted asked, exasperated. “For Hannah?”

“Oh,” the man said. “She had a baby boy, who grew up to be a judge and prophet, one of the most eminent men in Jewish history. She named him Samuel, which means, ‘God has heard,’ because, she said, ‘I asked the Lord for him.’ You may have heard stories of Samuel.”

Yes, Ted had, and he decided not to give up, not just yet.

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