If you know yourself
adversary is already defeated
Russell’s bad leg was bothering him
more than usual that day and he was laboring under a more exaggerated limp than
usual. As he was approaching the consignment shop a man was watching him
intently. Russell was not paying attention to him since he was so focused on
the discomfort in his leg.
As Russell got near to the shop the
man stepped in front of Russell causing him to walk right into the man.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not very
coordinated today,” explained Russell.
“Not a problem,” said the man
smoothly. “Did you hurt your leg?” But there was not any compassion in this
question. It was rather more like ice dripping onto Russell’s face.
“Uh, no not
really. I was born with a limp. One leg is a bit shorter than the other.
It’s just that I twisted it yesterday putting up a new birdhouse and it hurts
more than usual.”
“So you were born that way, huh?”
“Yes, why do you say it like that?”
“So God made you a cripple? How do
you feel about that? I bet that makes you mad sometimes.”
“Calling me a cripple seems a bit
harsh, especially from someone that I just met two seconds ago.”
“So then it does make you mad at
“I didn’t say that.”
“God must not like you too much to
have created you that way. Now look at Gary
over there.” The man pointed at a teen across the street with a bunch of
athletic, tanned friends. They both looked at the group.
On more than a few occasions Gary
and his friends had made fun of Russell. He seemed to be their favorite
whipping boy. It was not infrequent for Russell to wonder how much different
his life would be if he were tall, good-looking, and athletic. Russell twitched
and looked away. He thought it rather unfortunate that Gary
had to be there at that time and hoped that Gary would not see him and come over and
The man grinned but with more than
a touch of sinister. “God obviously likes Gary
better than you because He made him tall and strong and good-looking. As a
result he has lots of friends and he’ll marry a beautiful woman and have
wonderful, healthy children who will grow up and be just as good-looking as
their parents. He’ll get a better job because he’ll make a great first
impression just walking in the door. Who wouldn’t want someone like that in
their company?” He waited to let the words sink in. Russell’s shoulders sank.
Then the man continued.
“But what about
you? Because God created you with problems you’ll always have a lousy
job. You’ll probably never marry and you’ll struggle all of your life. And you
know whose fault that is? – God’s. God could have made you just like Gary, but He didn’t.
Instead He made you like this. God stole from you many of life’s pleasures.
What do you think about that?” The man stared intently down at Russell. He had
the grin of a malevolent victor.
Russell was rather shell-shocked by
this assault. This was his most sensitive nerve and somehow this stranger found
it and was pressing mercilessly on it. He was only coming to get something for
his mother. He did not expect this sucker punch. He hesitated. The man leaned
Russell looked up and was startled
as to how close the man’s face was. He stepped back.
“Nothing to say, I guess. Yes, God
has been pretty rough on you. It’s too bad He created you so far from ideal.”
“Actually,” responded Russell with
unexpected verve, “He created me perfectly.”
The man laughed. “Have you looked in a mirror lately? You are as far from
perfect as anyone that I’ve ever seen.” He laughed again.
Russell continued. “Yes, perfectly. As someone who has one leg shorter than the
other I’ve been perfectly created.”
The man pulled back and looked
Russell seized the moment. “What
heart look like” Is it vain? Is it self-centered? Does all of his preening
satisfy him deep to his bones? When he makes fun of others is that because he
is secure and sure of himself or rather is it more likely because he knows that
there is something missing and he isn’t clever enough to satisfy that gap so he
has to drag others down to himself?”
Now Russell leaned forward. “When
he stands before God one day and God asks him, ‘What did you do in My name?’ I don’t think that, ‘I looked my best for others’
is going to impress God much. Do you?”
The man looked startled.
“The way that God created me is the
best way for me to serve Him. If I were taller or more athletic then maybe I
would miss God because I would be too busy straining
to look at myself in the mirror behind Him.
“And besides, it is God who blesses
and God who curses, not good looks or strong muscles. As long as I do what is
right and respect others—a lesson you could learn—I’ll do just fine. I may not
marry the most beautiful woman but I’ll marry the right woman. And if we have
children even if they aren’t the most beautiful well at least they’ll know that
they are the most loved.”
At this the man stepped back; the
counter parry was swift, effective, and most unexpected. Even Russell was
startled—although quite satisfied—with his eloquence.
Russell took a step forward. “Say,
aren’t you the guy who’s been with—or should I say seducing—your co-worker
Terese?” He stepped in a little closer. The man leaned back. “You are. I
thought that you looked familiar. We saw you drive off with her the other day.
You were hiding behind the Laundromat. What is your name anyway?”
“What?” said the man taken back by
how the match had turned.
You do have one don’t you?” Russell got perhaps a little too sarcastic what
with how well his play had gone.
Peter. It’s Peter.” And then the man turned a lip and walked off.
Russell, forgetting the painful
twist in his leg, limped to the store much less dramatically than before.
The next day
Russell and Danielle were sitting in the chocolate shop. He had relayed
everything that had happened yesterday between himself and the Tall Man.
Russell was quite pleased with himself and by the time he finished the story
the confrontation had been longer, more intense, and the victory more
triumphant. Danielle beamed at her brother when he finished.
“So you really cut his legs off at
the knees, didn’t you?” she remarked.
Russell had the same look of
modesty as a boxer who just knocked-out his opponent and won the championship
belt. “Well, you know, it isn’t as though I haven’t had experience with tough
cases. I’ve been mocked by the best of them. In fact, this one was comparably
Danielle knew what was coming.
Anytime Russell talked about how much of a sacrifice he had made and the
obstacles he had overcome she knew what he was leading to. But she always bit
because she knew how much fun it was. “What tough case did you ever have to
Russell mounted his imaginary
podium. “Oh you know quite well what I am talking about, young lady. If there
ever was a stick in my spokes, a pin in my balloon, you were it when you were a
“Oh is that so,” she said looking
You put the ‘yell’ in Dan-yell. You could go from sleep to shriek in 1.2
“Oh, come on, I wasn’t that bad.”
Your nickname was Mouth Vesuvius.”
“So I cried a lot. It was probably
because I was mistreated. If you had been nicer to me maybe I would have been
more content,” she responded with a smile.
“Nicer, to you,” he said with his
voice rising in mock anguish. “If I was any nicer to you I’d be a saint by now.
People would have plastic almond-colored statues of me all over their houses.
My face would be stamped on cheap medallions and hung around necks.”
already. Nobody’s lighting candles to you yet so settle down. So tell me
again—in case I missed it the first 64 times—how were you so nice to me?”
Russell adjusted himself in his
seat. “I was the one who fed you probably most of the time. Dad wouldn’t do it
because, after all, that’s not man’s work and Mom was too busy wringing her
hands and fretting over everything. And let me tell you, you weren’t an easy
“And here comes the
pick-on-Danielle routine,” she said with her own version of mock anguish.
“Pah-lesse. Like I constantly pick
on you. You were one tough critter to get food into, let me tell you. Do
you know those stands at the carnival where you have a row of clown heads whose
mouths are hollow and who have a balloon on top of their heads? And everyone
has a water pistol and tries to squirt the water into the mouth of their clown
and blow up the balloon?”
Danielle put down her chocolate
chip shake and put her hands on her hips. “So you’re saying that I had a clown
“Well, you did have such big ears
that you looked like a truck coming at us with both doors open.”
With that Danielle reached across
the table and punched his shoulder quite hard.
“Ouch. I did say ‘did’” emphasizing
that word, “’have big ears’. Since then they’ve kind of migrated back towards
your head and so they are positioned quite nice now.
“But to answer your question, no, I
didn’t say that you had a clown face. I wasn’t finished. You remember how those
heads constantly turned from side-to-side and the trick was to keep the water
from the pistol in the mouth? Well, that rotating head was modeled from you.
You could never sit still. I was constantly following your mouth with the
bottle and then later on with the spoon. It drove me nuts.”
“Well, there’s that explanation,”
Ignoring her remark Russell
continued, “If only we would ever go to a carnival I would empty that stand of
“Well then, see, you should be
grateful. I developed in you a rare yet extremely useful talent.”
“But that wasn’t the worst of it.”
“OK, so now here it comes,” she said
and then raising her voice ever so slightly as though she was talking to
everyone in the shop, “Everyone here get ready for the horror you are about to
hear. It will astonish you, it will amaze you, it will
cause you to cuddle my poor little brother in your arms.” Lowering her voice
back to normal, “So what was it, as though I can’t guess?”
“Scream, oh my word! I used to
wonder how such a small person could store that much noise inside. I was afraid
that if you ever got cut that the release of all of that noise at once would
permanently deafen all of us and bring down the house on top of us all.”
“Oh, stop it,” she giggled.
“We always hoped that you would get
kidnapped because the criminals would pay us to take you back. And as God
knows, we really could have used the money.”
Danielle got serious again. “Yea,
we did live rather cheaply, didn’t we?”
“And still do. But then I think
that Dad made it seem worse than it was. He wouldn’t let us change your diaper
until it was as big as a weather balloon. ‘Those things don’t grow on trees’ he
would say. Instead of buying you shoes he wanted to put your feet in sandwich
bags held on with rubber bands.”
“Oh come on now. I don’t believe
“Well, OK, maybe that one is a bit
of a long tale, but he really was cheap. I think that his favorite line (only
because we heard it every day) was ‘Who puts the butter on your bread?’ The
problem was that it would have been nice to have something more than butter and
“He also liked to say, ‘This house
doesn’t have any low hanging fruit in it. If you want something you’re going to
have to work for it. If you want to eat you have to hunt.’”
was four months old! I don’t think that I was terribly adept at using a spear
at that age.”
“You didn’t need a spear. I think that
you could have simply screamed your prey into submission.” Russell paused for a
moment. “Well, Mom and I made sure that you had enough to eat and clothes to
wear. Even though you were a girl…”
“And still am in case you don’t
Russell continued, “Even though you
were a girl, Dad made you wear my hand-me-downs. His comment was that it wasn’t
like all of the other four-month olds would mock you and beat you up. I wasn’t
too worried though; I was bigger than most four month olds and could smack them
down if they gave you any lip.”
“You had better have been bigger
than most four month olds, after all, you were—what? —four years old at the
“So see, there you go; Dad was
right. You could wear my old clothes and they did fit you.”
“I guess it wasn’t too bad then,”
“Except that everyone would say
what a cute little brother I had.”
“So,” she said with vigor, “I was a
cute baby! Even you are forced to admit it!”