Daniel’s First Question Is Answered
It was a sunny autumn day and the first day back to school when Daniel received the answer to his question.
He had been asking himself how they would know something happened to Sanford but it never occurred to him that he might learn the answer at the expense of his best friend’s family.
Daniel and Russell had ridden the bus together that morning and in the excitement they found themselves talking about what it would be like this year, who would be in their classes and wondering who was going to be their teacher.
During Social Studies later that morning, Russel had been called out of class and didn’t return. Several of their friends were talking about it because, by the end of class, when Russell still hadn’t returned, Daniel asked Ms. Robertson where he was and she said Russell had gone home.
Daniel couldn’t help wondering what had happened. Neither he nor Russel had ever gone home from school, in fact, not one time since he’d known Russel, had he even gone home early. He kept thinking about it and it really stood out during math since Daniel was having a problem. Russell was exceptional at math and he would always help him out explaining it to him and making it simple, but not today.
The day wore on and Daniel managed to make it through his classes when at last, the final bell rang and Daniel raced out to catch the bus. Not that it would change anything but sitting in classes all day and not knowing what was going on with his best friend, waiting in line for the school bus was better than sitting in a seat in the classroom.
Daniel was surprised to find his Mom there to pick him up. He and Russell always rode the school bus home and they would often use this time to finish any homework or catch up on anything that went on in the classes when they weren’t together.
Like Daniel, Russell had an older brother, Robert, who had gone into the Marines. Robert had enlisted a couple of years before Sanford and had been stationed in Iraq for the last year. As a result, Daniel and Russell would talk about what was happening with their brothers.
Climbing into the car, Daniel could tell that mom had been crying. So, being careful to close the car door without slamming it, he sat there waiting for her to say something. When she only said, “hi” and “how did it go today?” he really knew something was up. Daniel looked at her then back out the window toward the school fading in the distance. “Pretty good,” he told her, “but Russ went home sick today. He didn’t say anything either, it was kind of funny cuz that’s not like him at all.”
He heard Mom make a funny sound as if she had started to choke on something so he glanced over at her and said, “Mom, what’s wrong?”
Mom’s voice was a little shaky as she started to speak, “Daniel, remember Russell’s older brother that was stationed over in Iraq?” Daniel nodded. “Well, Russell’s mom and dad got word today that Robert was killed in combat yesterday and that’s why Russell went home early.”
Too shocked to say anything Daniel sat there staring at the cars and buildings slip by for a few minutes and finally asked her what happened.
It seemed like forever while he waited for her to respond when she said, “Well, they aren’t really sure of the details yet but the Marines came to their house today and told them that he had been killed in action when a bomb exploded under their jeep.”
Daniel sat there with a dozen different thoughts going through his head. How could Russell’s brother be dead? How did this happen? Why? Why did it have to happen to his best friend’s brother? What was he going to say to Russell? And so many more questions but the hardest of all was, what about Sanford? Was he OK? He wanted to ask Mom but he was afraid, afraid she might start crying and afraid of what she might say.
After the longest silence, Mom asked him what he was thinking. The words shot out of him like a blast when he said, “Is Sanford OK?” He immediately felt guilty asking about his own brother when they had been talking about Russell’s family.
He knew what it was like when someone died since his Grandpa had died a few years ago. There was the family, the funeral, and the cemetery. During the funeral, the preacher had talked about Grandpa’s life and his soul going to heaven and all but, Grandpa was old. Robert was only two years older than Sanford.
Mom sighed and answered him quietly, “honey, we’re sure he’s ok. We sent an email and hope to hear back from him soon but, we have to trust that God is keeping him safe and watching out for him.”
Daniel didn’t say anything more the rest of the way home and when they got out of the car he stood there in the driveway for a moment staring at Russell’s house wondering what he was doing. It looked like there were a few extra cars out in front of the house but he couldn’t be sure if it was for their house or for one of the neighbors.
Finally turning to follow mom inside, he went to the kitchen table and pulled out his homework. Although he usually took it to his room, he didn’t know if he liked the idea of being alone right now or not. He didn’t want to talk either. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts but having his mom there felt safe. It didn’t make any sense, but that’s what it was.
Daniel knew he was supposed to get any homework done before dinner but after about 30 minutes when mom asked him if he needed any help, he realized he hadn’t even made a mark on his paper. No, he answered. He picked up his pencil and looked at the questions. The next hour took all of his attention to getting his homework done when finally, mom told him to wash up for dinner and that dad would be home in a few minutes.
Putting his books and papers back in his backpack he took them and dropped them off on his bed. Dinner conversation consisted of dad and mom talking about Russell’s family and how they were handling the news. Daniel only half listened and after finishing, he asked to be excused taking his dishes to the sink, rinsed them off and put them in the dishwasher, then went into the living room sitting on the couch as he stared out the front window at Russell house.
Mom had taken a big pot of spaghetti over to the Clarkson’s that afternoon and said that they would all come by later in the evening so after mom and dad finished, they headed across the street to visit.
While Mom and Dad sat down with Russell’s parents, Daniel and Russell went out in the backyard and sat down on the grass. It was a warm September evening and the grass had a sweet smell to it. It would have been a perfect evening for a pick-up ball game but it seemed all wrong. The two boys sat for a while not saying anything and finally, Daniel asked: “how ya doin’?” Russell shrugged his shoulders and mumbled that he was fine. Daniel asked if there was anything he could do and Russell shook his head no. They sat there together for the rest of the evening not talking about anything and looking at the grass or the sky. Eventually, Mom called out to him that it was time to go home. They said their good-byes and Daniel and his parents walked back across the street.
Going up to his room he sat down on the bench seat next to the window and looked up at emerging stars in the evening sky. Every night for the last year he had prayed for God to take care of Sanford but now he felt selfish. Maybe he should have prayed for God to watch over Robert too. Then he wondered if Robert’s family had been praying for him too, why had God let him die? Moreover, if simply praying didn’t work, was Sanford going to die too?
Why did God let that happen?
But there was no answer.
He didn’t feel much like doing anything but he went and picked up one of his Harry Potter books and flipped it open to a random page. Harry saw Ginny lying there on the ground… As Daniel reread the scene in the Chamber of Secrets he thought about Professor Dumbledore telling Harry that help would always be given to one who is truly in need. Closing the book Daniel thought about Robert and Russell’s family and how Robert had needed help. Then he thought about the Bible and how it said to Ask and ye shall receive…and still Robert had died.
As the stars grew brighter in the night sky and it was time to go to bed, Daniel did something he had never done. He got into his pj’s, went and told his parents good night, then went straight to bed. He knew he hadn’t said his prayers, he didn’t say anything about watching over Sanford. As he lay there staring out the still open window all he could ask was, “why?”.
The next day Russell had stayed home and at school, Daniel noticed that the flag was flying at half-mast. The teacher had explained that they were doing that in honor of the memory of Russell’s brother Robert who had given his life in service to his country.
Things were quiet at school that day and stayed that way the rest of the week. On Sunday the minister even preached about service to God and country and how the Bible teaches us to render unto Caesar those things which are Caesars and to God those things which are God’s.
When they went out to lunch that afternoon Daniel had asked what the minister meant by “render” and who Caesar was. Mom and dad had said that render meant to give or deliver and that in the end, it was about God and the spiritual honor and the love we demonstrate in our hearts and daily lives. At the same time, we give our government taxes, school, working, paying our bills and other services, like Robert and Sanford serving in the military. They told him that Caesar was a Roman Emperor during the time that Jesus had lived and a question had been put to Jesus to try to trick him. Jesus had answered that way to let them know that those things which were of the spirit were to go to God.
That evening Daniel wondered what it all really meant. Give God “this”, give the government “that” and well, who really cares if you’re going to die all the same?
And still, the “why’s” just kept on coming, with no answers…