A Child’s Lesson

A Year of Essays: January 14, 2022 (from the Archives)

I met someone over 37 years ago. His given name is Eric, though I called him Boogerbutt. Instant attraction. My newly-born nephew would teach me about life over and over.

When Eric was four, we went for a picnic in a park. He wanted to explore, so we found long sticks for staffs and hiked to the nearby stream. Along the way, we discovered an anthill. Eric walked over and crouched down to watch the ants swarm over the mound. The tiny workers foraged for food, and some carried pieces of leaf several times their size. I found myself thrown into the role of Ant Expert as I answered Eric’s questions: How can they carry something so big? Where are they going? Why are there so many? Why do they bump into each other? Can’t they see each other? Do they say “hello” when they bump into each other? I traveled back to my own childhood. I remembered how something new and different could excite me and transport me into another world of discovery, and how I drove my parents crazy by asking 7,312 questions an hour, as Eric did.

During the rest of our adventure, we watched a bee gathering pollen, a snake slithering into its hole (he feared both the bee and the snake), and minnows coming to feed at the stream’s surface. Watching the world through his eyes, I started to appreciate the simple beauty of nature and to take on faith the cycles of the world.

Not long after, Eric began showing a creative streak. His mother played the soundtrack to Les Misérables over and over. A TV commercial included “One Day More,” and from the recesses of his memory, Eric recognized the tune. I explained the connection to the stage musical, and he demanded we see a show. His life changed.

I gave him Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and read to him at every visit. We watched Branagh’s Henry V on video. We saw Hamlet, SRO. We made a date to see Macbeth. It was in a 100-seat theatre, and although Eric wanted to sit in the front row, a bit of cajoling convinced him he could see more from a different seat. We found two seats above the door to the lobby which the actors used for their entrances and exits. In the second act, Macduff walked off the stage and stopped on the landing in front of the door. Malcolm continued to address him from the stage. The actor, dressed in armor with sword at his side, stood in silence, listening to Malcolm, and his motionless face was two feet away from Eric’s. From the corner of my eye, I watched Eric, not the play. A young mind, mesmerized and consumed by every word, every moment, every action. We were in Dunsinane. From that night, I knew I needed to write. I think of that look on Eric’s face when I’m stuck, and I become a mesmerized child, imagining anything.

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David Russell Beach

David Russell Beach

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David Beach is playwright/writer, director, dramaturg, and educator. He holds a PhD in education and an MFA in playwriting, and is a professor at Radford U.