(This is the serial telling of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Available here on Amazon. Search for “Phillip’s Story” on this blog site for the other chapters. Enjoy stepping into this story of a 6 year-old named Phillip.)
Kevin meets me at the car every day. He slings his arm over my shoulder, a simple thing for him since he’s about 12 inches taller than I am and walks me to class. Then, says, “Hey, Phillip, see you at recess.” And every day he does.
Mrs. Olson’s classroom is like a closet to me. It is totally safe. I love it there. Mrs. Olson seems to believe in me more than I ever could in myself. Today is November 1st. I can read now. Well, I know lots of words. It is as easy as playing piano. The words flow. I just cannot do it out loud. Speaking doesn’t work for me, in general. It is easier to think in my head after the pictures I see change to words. But to speak words? They don’t come. So, I stick to the words I can say, my colors, the numbers, the name Jesus, and I don’t say “Hold you” as much now. Because people do.
I started playing saxophone with Mr. Simons and the band in October. The sax is more challenging for me than the piano. I get what is supposed to happen, but blowing, and pressing the stops, and understanding the scales is yet coming. But Mr. Simons always is encouraging me. Yesterday when we were in band, he said, “Phillip, I’d like you to play a riff here.” He means to play a short rhythm phrase to transition us from one part of the song to another. I tried it and it went okay. But Mr. Simons applauded!
Today, I am playing piano at the school assembly. Kids will be there from all six grades in the school. I wasn’t scared when I awoke to this realization this morning. I cannot wait. I love playing the piano and love playing for people. It is the best part of music for me. Maggie and Henry are coming to the assembly, as is the lady and the man with the car, if he can get out of his program work at that time, Nana and Papa and Molly, too. So, I guess it is a big deal. It happens after lunch at 1 pm today.
There are both a math and a spelling test this morning in class. Mine will include two-digit addition, since I have moved ahead of the others. And the spelling will be on all the words we have learned in the first two months of school. I like tests. They are fun for me. It is just a chance to practice what I know. And since I don’t talk out loud, to write things down is a way of speaking for me.
Susan and Julie are whispering by their desks when Skye and I enter the room. Julie looks up and waves. I wave back and Susan smiles.
Nemo fist-bumps me and says, “Phillip, did you hear? Susanna is at home sick today, so she won’t make the assembly. She is super bummed. Her mom called mine this morning to let me know. She wanted me to tell you to break a leg in your performance. I told her people usually only say that to actors not to musicians. And she said, ‘Well, it is better than saying break a finger!’ And then she started to cough and cough while I laughed. ‘True, it is better than that.’ So, Phillip, from Susanna, ‘Break a leg today.’”
As I get to Susan and Julie, and my desk between them, they stop talking and say, “We are so nervous about today. I mean, we don’t like tests at all!”
“Do you like them?”
“How can you?” Julie asks.
“I bet,” she says, “that for you they are a way to speak out loud since that is tough for you to do. So, on a test you can speak.”
I smile. Sometimes she just gets things.
“And besides, the subjects have come kind of easily for you.”
“Well, okay. But we are still nervous. I mean what if we get things wrong?”
I shrug, my palms up. What would that matter? I wonder. I mean, isn’t the purpose of a test to miss things, to learn what you need to know? Isn’t that the point?
Julie looks at me and smiles. “I guess you are right. It does not matter if we miss things because then we will know what we still need to learn.”
I smile. She does catch stuff sometimes. “Maybe we don’t need to be afraid, Susan. What if we just do our best and let that be good enough. We have been practicing the spelling words together. We have looked at math. So perhaps this can just be a chance to see what we don’t know and that’s okay.”
Susan nods this time.
“Hey, Phillip! Thank you!” she says. I am not certain what I had done but I smile and nod.
Mrs. Olson calls us to order and we take our seats. Skye curls up by my feet under my desk. He likes school lots, too. Mrs. Olson always has a dog treat for him at her desk, so probably during the tests he will go and get one from her. But for now, he is just settled down and resting. Mrs. Olson takes role, marks Susanna as absent and then announces, “So, for today, we will begin with our tests and then I will read aloud from our class story and you can draw pictures while I read. I think we ought to have time for reading groups before recess, as well. After recess we will be doing an art project. That reminds me, Susanna is the one who usually feeds the fish. Would someone else take her job?”
Several hands go up.
“Well, what enthusiasm! Nemo, how about you do it today. Thank you. So, take out a pencil and we will start with math and then do the spelling test. Just do your best. A test is a means to see what you need to yet learn, not a means of putting you down.”
Julie whispers, “Wow. She even gets that!”
The tests go well. Even Julie and Susan say the tests were simpler than they expected. Skye wandered up to Mrs. Olson’s desk for his treat between them and sat there for a moment. After Mrs. Olson had passed out the spelling tests, she stroked his head for a moment and then gave him his treat.
Mrs. Olson passes out pieces of paper at our desks and we take out our crayons or colored pencils and she reads the next chapter in A Wrinkle in Time. We are all into this story. We laughed at the part about the Happy Medium but when she shows Calvin his home and sees his mom, angry and mean, many of us got quiet. I used to have a home like that. The lady never looked bad, but she and the man used to act really, really mean with me and each other. I never liked that at all.
While I color, and Mrs. Olson reads, I think about the man. He was over again yesterday for Halloween. He took me out to Trick ‘or’ Treat. I was Spiderman. We drove to a neighborhood that has more houses closer together, for in ours we would need to walk a long way between the few houses around us. He is nicer now. I was not afraid to go with him. The lady stayed home for a few kids do come to our place. And she wanted to be there for them. He walked with me and talked about the costumes we saw on other kids. I don’t like some of them at all. The ghoul faces. The bloodied faces. Skye stayed close with us. He doesn’t like the scary stuff either. At the people’s doors the man would say, “Trick or Treat,” for me. And the people would make comments about Spiderman being the silent type and give me candy. Between one house, the man asked if I wanted to just shoot a web and swing to the next house. We laughed.
As we laughed, I looked up at him. His eyes sparkled. His teeth showed in that wide grin. He didn’t look like a crow at all, anymore. I tried to remember when I had ever seen him laugh. I could not remember one time. Previously, he only was mad. That was his single emotion. At that moment, I decided I liked his Dr. Pearson at St. Albans. Dr. Pearson was changing my life by changing the man’s life. Once at home the lady said ten kids had come to the door, a high number for our house. And the man told her about me shooting webs and swinging between houses. They laughed. He left soon after that, giving the lady a kiss and me a hug before leaving.
“Phillip?” Mrs. Olson says.
I look up. The whole class is looking at me. She is done reading the story.
“Are you okay?” she asks. I have been so absorbed in thinking about last night and coloring that I had not even noticed they had finished the book. I wipe my cheeks. Even happy thoughts bring tears.
“We wondered because you were crying,” she continues.
A grin comes to my face. I nod again.
“Well, you were lost in thought, and it looks like they were happy thoughts and that is good. I like what you colored here. Let’s take a moment and hold up the pictures you have created,” she says to us all. So, we all hold up our pictures. Mine is the face of a lion with a full mane full of all the colors. After reading about Narnia and the lion Aslan, I love lions.
At recess while running over to join the other kids in a hopscotch game, Peggy, the big girl with the black, oily hair grabs my shoulder.
“Hey stupid,” she says. “You got me in trouble the first day of school. I have not forgotten. You are nothing to me.”
My heart pounds, as the black from her words flows over me. “I am going to get you,” she threatens. I remember our other encounter, two months back. How I shrank and crumpled. And I remember Jesus saying to me “I am with you.” Her hand still clutches my shoulder. I shake off her hand. And stand and look her in the eyes. I see someone frightened in those eyes. I don’t see a big, strong, dangerous person, but a small, insecure, little one. She is smaller than I am inside. I shake my head and stare. Jesus you are standing with me, I think. And a rush of blue comes through me, like water. Bubbles of joy form within my heart. I need not be afraid. As this happens something else happens which I don’t yet understand. Peggy takes a step back and looks uncertain.
At that moment, Kevin runs over and says, “Come on, Phillip, let’s go play.” And we just jog away from her. I glance back once, and she is standing there looking bewildered. Her ploy to control me had not worked, and that shook her.
“You should have seen him,” Kevin is saying at our lunch table, recounting what had happened with Peggy. Everyone looks at me for a second. Then they clap!
“Phillip! You rock star! Everyone ought to be as brave as you,” they shout.
Who can eat a ham sandwich surrounded by such applause? How is it that life can move from a place where it all feels dark to suddenly become light? How does that happen? To go from a closet, feeling alone except for MC Bear, Skye and Jesus to this table of friends. Life has a way of changing direction. Laughing, I just can’t believe it.
There are 482 kids who attend Brown Elementary School. And from the looks of it, none but Susanna are absent today. Alongside them in the packed the auditorium, I recognize nearly two rows of people near the front. The man with the car, the lady in the white house, Miss Jeanne and her husband, Nana and Papa, Molly, Laura, Dr. Tyler and his wife Melinda and their boys, Maggie and Henry and Pastor Elaine. Look at them!
I wave as I walk to the front after Mr. Simons invites me up to play the piano for the whole school. He says, “The rest of us get to express ourselves every day with the words we use. Not Phillip. Therefore, I have pushed for this assembly. I wanted us to let Phillip speak, and one way he speaks so many words is through his music. I’ve experienced some of this as he has been learning to play sax in the band. But know, the piano gives him voice in a whole new way. So, thank you, Phillip, for being willing to play for us.”
Everyone claps. I glance over the crowd and see Peggy and her group of ruffians on the far right near the back. Her arms are folded. She is feeling braver again. I stare until she looks down, the clapping stops, and I sit at the piano with Skye taking his place next to me.
I play song after song and the room fills with beauty. It becomes a lush garden, a river flowing down the center aisle, trees and animals abounding and the people all seated in paradise. Such beauty is everywhere. At one point I finish a song and people are caught up in beauty. Perhaps each person is seeing a different kind of splendid scene. The room is silent, peaceful and still. No one wants to shatter the moment. But, for the next song, they erupt into applause.
I begin again. And I glance up to see Jesus enter the room. As I play, He walks and stands by Kevin, his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. His presence radiates love throughout the room. Then Jesus moves through the room. He places a hand on one, stands by another, and hugs someone else. When he reaches Peggy seat, her shoulders are hunched over. She is sobbing! He kneels next to her and hugs her. Light. Brilliant light comes from him as he hugs her.
After the hug, Peggy sits up. Something in her has changed. She no longer looks angry and mean. The snarl has left her face and the wrinkle is gone from her forehead. Her face nearly looks beautiful, which is a really big change for her. Jesus moves to touch someone else, stand by another, and hug someone. The river flows down the middle and tears flow down cheeks as I play my final song, the old hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Maggie and I had worked out an approach to the song, that begins slowly and then builds and builds until it finishes with a flourish. After I finish, I look over at the rows with the people who are family. The man grips the lady’s hand. They are crying. Molly, tears washing her cheeks, has the lady’s other hand. Henry with his hand over Maggie’s shoulder is beaming. Nana and Papa are standing and clapping. Laura is weeping. Dr. Tyler and Melinda and their three boys sit smiling. The youngest, Fred, sits in Melinda’s lap. Miss Jeanne and Mr. Jamison join Nana and Papa, standing, as does Pastor Elaine, with her bright red hair, glasses and white, long, wool coat. She always looks important. And soon everyone is standing and applauding. Skye and I stand and bow.
Mr. Simons comes onto stage, thanks me, and says as they stop clapping, “Do you see what I mean? Phillip has words to speak.”
“Bravo!” someone shouts. Again, people start clapping. Peggy even looks enthused. I hear people shouting “Encore!”
“Would you like Phillip to play one more song?” Mr. Simons shouts over the din.
“Yes!” shouts the crowd.
“Play it again, Sam!” Mr. Simons says to me. Then, he asks, “Do you know any more songs?”
I nod and laugh.
I play the “Hallelujah Chorus.” And I remember the first night I heard that song played on the record at Maggie and Henry’s house. The quilt around me on their couch. The meal Maggie served. I still remember the beef stew, homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies. That’s the first time I heard this song, there, over that meal. The way music filled my soul then, is still how it fills me now. I see a painting emerge in my own heart as I play of a magnificent scenic vista. Mountains. Waterfalls. Trees. Snow. Splendor.
I was thankful Maggie had warned me, “Sweet Lad, many times when people hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” they stand up. So, don’t let this throw you! This has been a tradition for years. Some say it originated when at one of the first performances King George of England stood and royal protocol was such that everyone needed to stand. There are all kinds of stories about this, and some say he never even attended a performance. But still, the fact is, no matter how it started, I wanted you to know people still stand.”
When I finish everyone has stood and again the room erupts in applause. Mr. Simons thanks me again, says a few words and dismisses everyone back to class. The first person to approach me is Pastor Elaine. She kneels in front of me (she’s super tall), and says, “Phillip. I had heard you played, and I imagined, well, playing like a normal 6-year-old. But you play! You are so gifted. Would you play a concert at church sometime?”
I cannot believe she is saying this. I nod, smile and stroke Skye’s hair. Absolutely I will.
“Okay, I’m going to check the calendar and will call your mom and we will work out a date.”
I smile again. The mom word does not send shivers down me anymore, even though I have not yet started using it myself. Maybe. Someday.
Nana and Papa give me two big hugs. They both are wearing jeans, cowboy boots, tucked in shirts and leather vests. She bends down to me and says, “You dear, dear boy! My. How God has blessed you! I tell you, I sat there with chills running through me the whole time. The. Whole. Time. What a glorious experience. I never knew a person could come to a public school and experience Jesus like we did here today. I feel like I have been to church. It was like Jesus was walking around, among us. I felt His hand on my shoulder. The sweet presence. Oh, my boy. He’s at work in you and through you!” Her hand on my shoulder, she turns to Papa and says, “Nick! Didn’t you experience the presence of Jesus?”
“Sure did,” he says, smiling one of his ear-to-ear smiles. “I felt like I was sitting in a glorious garden, Phillip.” Papa never is one for many words. Nana makes up for it!
“We are off to go riding today, that’s why I’m in this getup. Sometime, let’s plan for you to come riding with us. You’d love Molly, one of our horses. Yes, it is funny that is also the name of your mom’s friend! But Molly is the sweetest horse. She’s got to be 16 by now, but so gentle. Would you like that? Good. It is settled then. We will make that happen. Probably not until spring comes, however. This will be our last day this winter, I wouldn’t doubt it. It is just uncannily good weather today. I’m so glad we were here today. I will keep praying for you, and” Nana leans in closer and says, “it looks like Jesus is answering prayers for your daddy. He is doing better and better. He is talking about experiencing Jesus again. Phillip, I have prayed years and years for this day. And God is always faithful. I believe you are part of his healing. Thank you.” Here she hugs me again. Not as crunchy as usual but crushing! When she releases me, she wipes her wet cheeks with a tissue. “Well, we better go. You take good care precious Phillip. God will abundantly bless you.”
I watch as they walk away. They hug several others before leaving, taking an extra-long time with the man with the car. Then they go. I turn around as I am watching them leave and there is Peggy. Same oily black hair, and loose-fitting, baggy dress. But her eyes don’t look the same at all. Her face is somehow softer.
“Hey,” she says, gently. “I just want you to know.” She stops talking. Her mouth closes and lips quivers. Her eyes fill with tears. As I see this, bubbles of light fill me.
I hear Jesus speaking in my heart, “See what My love can do?” I stand there amazed.
Yes, I do, I respond inside me. I’m uncertain for a moment, but then, deciding, I step closer and give her a hug. She holds on and sobs.
Wiping her nose on her sleeve, she says, “Phillip, I’ve been awful to you this year. I just want you to know that after today, I’m on your side. I’ve never experienced anything like today in my life. I have never thought much of God, but it was as if I was wrapped in love as you played. I couldn’t believe the feeling. If there is a God, then He was here today and showed up through your music. You may not use words, but today, like wham! You were talking the whole time and so was God. Thank you.”
I hug her again.
“What was that?” Kevin says, walking up. “I’ve never seen Peggy look like she has a heart before. Man, what’s happening?”
I shrug and smile.
“Today changed everything, Phillip. No longer will people see you as ‘the kid who doesn’t speak,’ or as ‘the kid with the dog.’ From now on you will be ‘that’s the kid with the musical gift.’ Your music was incredible. Jesus was walking through the place today. It was like we were transported to another place as you played. Then, I felt him touch me. It was like electricity coursed through my whole body. There’s been no school assembly like this before.” He socks my shoulder. “Thanks! I’m heading to class for last period. You better get there, too!” He jogs up the center aisle to the double doors that lead to the main hallway.
The lady and the man walk up holding hands. They kneel in front of me. “Wow,” the lady says, “Just wow. I never thought music could do what happened here today. You’ve done some pretty cool things with music before, but today was extra special. It was healing. Was that girl talking to you the one who had bullied you?”
“Looks like that relationship has changed!”
I nod again.
“Buddy,” the man with the car says, still kneeling in front of me, “You did great. I feel honored to have been here. Thanks for letting me come. Mom and I have been talking about me moving home soon and trying life together again. I’ll still need to leave every day for my group sessions and will still be stocking shelves at Albertson’s on weekends. I will be gone lots. But she is ready to try me being at home. My question for you is, are you ready to give me another chance in the house?”
They are both kneeling in front of me, side by side. Blood rushes to my head. The fear of his anger comes back. Skye settles in close by my side. Fear leave, I think, and it does. My head clears still looking at the two adults kneeling before me who used to be frightening. They are changing. My world has changed. I spend less and less time in my closet. School is safe. And home is not bad. Perhaps it is another test. Perhaps the man with the car could come back as a test. If he passes then he stays, if not, then we will all see it is not time yet.
I bet the lady thinks the same. So, I look him in the eyes and nod. He smiles and hugs me. As he hugs me, I realize this is the second hug he’s ever given me — this tight, this real. The first was when he hugged me before leaving the other day. Before that, he’s grabbed me, hit me, chased me, yelled and sneered at me, but never hugged me. Suddenly I realize he’s shaking as he holds me. He’s crying. The man with the car is crying, sobbing even. I put my arms around him and hug him back. Hold you, I think. Skye puts his paws on the man’s leg. The lady has one warm hand on each of our shoulders. She’s talking to Jesus. We stay like this for what feels like a long time. But not a bad time. I like his hug. Then his hold eases so I release him from mine.
“Phew. Those tears just came! Thank you, Phillip. I’m so sorry for all the pain I have caused your young life. I’ve been wrong. I believe I’m changing,” the man with the car says. I believe this too. They stand, hug, and he says to her, “I need to get back St. Albans, I have group in fifteen minutes. So, I’ll check in later and we can decide when I can bring my things over.”
“Fine, Michael. Let’s try this. I think we are ready.” He kisses her. I don’t watch. They part and I look as he jogs up the aisle leaving by the same doors Kevin used.
“I’d say, it is nice to see you two kids act like a normal couple!” Maggie has walked up. “Looks like Jesus is busy healing!”
“Maggie, I just cannot imagine how this is possible. With all the pain around Phillip’s birthday and following, I thought perhaps we would end up splitting. This is a surprise to say the least. He’s going to move back home this weekend. We are going to give it a try with him in the house. He and I have talked about safeguards around his computer use. He will continue with the small groups and counseling through St. Albans, for it seems to be working on his heart.”
Maggie claps her hands together. “It’s a miracle. Jesus is doing a miracle. That’s all there is to it.”
“Did you hear this, Henry?”
“What,” Henry says, sauntering over.
“Michael will be moving back home!”
“Well, God be praised! Such news adds to the beauty of this day. You, little buddy,” Henry says to me, “have charmed the whole school. What music and what a sense of the Presence of God filled this place. All because of how your music flows from your heart and life. Phillip! Today was marvelous.” He picks me up and hugs me.
“Phillip, I just looked at the time. You are due back in class. I’ll be here in just over an hour. Have a great time.” the lady says.
I hug the three of them one last time, run up the aisle, push through the double doors, Skye running alongside me. We reach the classroom, and Mrs. Olson turns as I come in the door.
“My, oh, my Phillip,” she says as I enter to walk to my seat. “Extraordinary! Your music was powerful today. I’ve never attended a school assembly which felt like today’s felt, before. It was like worship has felt sometimes. When the air is thick with God and God’s love. Today took me to a good place. It was like I saw this beautiful scene before me, or better yet, like I was in the scene.”
No sooner had Mrs. Olson said this, when others spoke out.
Nemo says, “Me too! I felt like church, like those moments in Miss Jeanne’s class when suddenly God is there.”
“I felt like I was walking in a beautiful meadow,” Julie says, “And then it was like Jesus was walking with me.”
“Was that Jesus?” Fredricka asks. “I’ve heard of him. I thought he was just a myth or something. But if that was Him at assembly, I want to know more about Him. That was love in the room.”
“It was definitely Jesus,” Anna speaks up. “I saw him walking around in there touching and hugging people.”
They saw what I had seen! I’m a bit blown away by this. I knew people had seen pictures before, they’ve told me, but never imagined someone could actually be seeing what I was seeing. I take my seat amazed as the discussion of Jesus and music continues around me. And as I sit there, Jesus moves into the classroom. His presence is all around me, and I hear him say to me, “I’m so proud of you, son. Well done. Well done.”
The last hour flies as Mrs. Olson reads from A Wrinkle in Time and tells us, “On Monday we will have a quiz on this story thus far. We also have a math quiz.”
“As always, plan to do your best. A test is just to help you discover where you still need to work.”
As I wait for the lady to come after school, so many kids come up to me to thank me for the playing. All of them have one thing they tell me, “Somehow, the music changed me. Thanks Phillip.”
I’ve never felt seen like this before. Suddenly, instead of just seeing Skye, people see me. The lady drives up.
When I see her through the window, tears are coursing down her cheeks. She says, “Phillip, honey, hurry and get in. We need to go to the hospital. I can’t stop the tears. Maggie has fallen. Henry has taken her to the hospital. It sounds bad.”
My heart stops beating as me and Skye get into the car.