(This is the second to last chapter of the book Hello, My Name is Phillip. You can get your copy here. Thank you for reading and responding. Reviews and testimonies can be found on my website at http://www.brianshimer.com. Share these
I open my eyes. It is morning, but very early. Skye is still asleep next to me on my bed. I think back to the days prior. It has been two weeks since the accident and Kevin and his parents’ deaths. I’ve been held lots. Many, many times, the lady or man have found me sitting in the corner of a room or in my closet, rocking, hands over my ears, saying colors, numbers or “hold you.” And each time, they have just sat down with me, and held me. I’ve been hugged or held by them more in the past days probably than in my whole life.
On Christmas Day, it was just me, Skye, the lady, and the man. The weather in The Gorge was too severe for Grandma and Grandpa to travel. They mailed presents for us to open. None of us were very interested in opening gifts that day. So, we didn’t. We ate the cinnamon rolls the lady had made for breakfast, along with eggs and sliced oranges. I drank my hot chocolate and they both had coffee. The lady likes hers with extra creamer and sugar. The man drinks his black.
After breakfast we all took a walk wrapped up in our warmest coats and explored the wintery park. We played games and worked on a puzzle together. Then the lady suggested we take some cinnamon rolls over to the McScott’s house. She imagined they, too, were having a tough day. So, she packaged up the cinnamon rolls and we drove over to their place. It was not far from our house. They lived in downtown Gladstone in a pink-looking, wood-framed house that sat up from the road up eleven cement steps, with a handrail. The house was two-story, with a large picture window on one side of the front door and two smaller windows on the right, and then four dormer style (that’s what the lady called them) windows on the second floor. Those windows looked like they were cut into the roof. The front yard was full of raised flower beds covered in straw, filled with snow and ice.
When Mrs. McScott opened the door and saw us standing there, she said, “Oh my, oh my, how did you ever know?” And she started to cry. “Please, come in,” she stuttered.
Inside, the presents lay under their tree untouched. Not a gift opened. Julie saw us enter and ran over to give me a hug and started to cry. “I’m so glad to see you,” she said. “We have had a horrible day! It has been so hard. Frederick is so sad. He has stayed in his room most of the day. We didn’t even want to open gifts. It just didn’t feel right. And we kept talking about you, wondering how you were doing! And then you arrive with your family. Thank you for coming. How are you?”
“Now, Julie, let’s let them enter the house.”
Julie stopped talking for a moment.
“Please come in. Cinnamon Rolls? We love those. Thank you so much. So, tell me, how are you? Oh, this is my husband, Robert.”
Robert got up from the couch and walked over. He was a tall man, slender, wearing a grey running suit and colorful socks. He had bright red hair, combed across his forehead. He smiled as he came.
Mrs. McScott said, “Robert, meet the Smythes. This is Michael, Dorothy, Phillip, and Skye.”
He shook the man’s hand, saying, “Call me Bob,” then the lady’s and shook my hand as well. He kind of waved at Skye. “Good to meet you all,” he said in a voice as jolly as Julie’s. “It’s been a different holiday, hasn’t it?”
And that was all it took. The adults began to share about Kevin’s death and the impact it had on them. The lady and man sat on the couch, the McScott’s in their big chairs near a TV on the wall. They began to talk about how I had been doing and the McScott’s experience with Frederick. Mrs. McScott got them all waters and then other drinks.
While that was happening, Julie said, “Come on. Let me show you my room.”
We walked up the carpeted stairs with the wide banister to the second floor. Her room was painted royal blue. The whole thing! Half the ceiling slanted down on the street side with one of the dormer windows I’d seen from outside. She had posters on her walls of people I didn’t recognize. Her room had a bed with a pink frilly comforter, a bookcase, a desk that held a red container filled with pencils and pens, and a closet with more than eleven pairs of shoes and too many dresses and coats and shirts to count.
“Hey, let me show you this,” Julie said, opening one of the desk drawers. There were two sets of watercolor pencils and paint brushes. “Do you want to paint?”
I nodded as the thought filled me with such joy. Paint! I miss colors. I have not painted in weeks.
So, we took out the color pencil sets, the brushes, and then from the side of her closet she took out a pad of thick paper and we headed back downstairs with our treasures. We sat at their big kitchen table, next to the sliding glass door. The yard behind the house had a big lawn surrounded by shrubs and bushes all around the edge. There were trellises, which would probably be filled with flowers and fragrance in the spring and summer.
When first I put the pencil on paper, I felt joy. Such joy. Colors. I drew my favorite mountain lake scene, and then wet the brush in the tin of water Julie had for us and began to blend the colors. We’d been at this an hour before we knew it. Julie talked the whole time about the hard weeks they had had, about Frederick, about Kevin and the things she remembered noticing first about him.
“That first day, when he walked you to class and introduced you to Mrs. Olson, and then left I thought he must be your big brother. The way he cared for you. Stood near you. Patted you on the back and said, ‘See you at recess!’ Of course, I knew Kevin already, he had been here to play a few times. But I had not really ever gotten to know him.”
I remembered that first day and how scared I had been and how Kevin had met me at the curb and been my guardian angel all those weeks. Tears pricked my eyes.
“Sorry. It’s hard isn’t it. The tears keep coming. Here’s some Kleenex. You are brave, Phillip. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t speak! And you must have all the feelings I have but cannot talk about them.”
“Not everyone needs to use as many words as you do, sweetheart,” called Mrs. McScott from the adjoining living room. Julie laughed. “She’s always telling me I talk a lot. Do you think I talk a lot?”
I looked up and smiled and nodded.
She laughed again. “Phillip agrees with you, mom!”
“He’s a wise one then,” called over Mrs. McScott again.
Mrs. McScott made coffee and brought out a tray of crackers, cheese, carrot and celery sticks, and apple slices. She put a small plate by us on the table, a larger tray on the coffee table in front of the lady and the man, and then Mr. McScott ran a small plate up to Frederick in his room. It was not long after, Frederick came downstairs too and joined us at the table.
Frederick was soft spoken, like his dad. In third grade he was Kevin’s height, tall, but he was slender like his dad.
He sat down and looked at what I was painting and said, “Man oh man, Phillip. I have never seen anything like that. How do you do that?”
“Oh, Phillip is ubertalented. You remember the assembly concert, right?” asked Julie.
“Nope. Remember I was sick that day.”
“Oh, that’s right. But you were at the concert at the church. Well, Phillip might not talk with words, but he talks in colors and music.”
I blushed as she went on.
“Well, Julie, I can see he has talent. Phillip, that is an incredible painting. I could step into it. I want to swim the lake!”
“Mom and Dad, have you seen what Phillip has done here?” Frederick called over.
“We haven’t yet, although I got a peek at it when I set down the snack plate,” called back his mom.
“Well, you have got to. It’s amazing, I’m telling you,”
Julie laughed. “I’ve been telling you for weeks how amazing Phillip is. I’m glad you can finally see it for yourself!” She gave Frederick a piece of paper. “Here, you draw and paint too.”
And so, we all did. I continued to add the touches on the painting I was doing, birds in the sky, a fish leaping from the lake. And they painted on their pictures as well. Frederick started to talk about Kevin.
“He was solid, you know. He just was always there for you. It’s almost like I can hear him sometimes saying some of the things he used to, like, ‘You got this, Fred.’ He always encouraged me. That’s what I will miss the most about him. He was there for me unlike any friend I have ever had.” He stopped talking, took a Kleenex and wiped his eyes. I nodded. I understood exactly.
“I haven’t wanted to be around my family today. I just couldn’t face a happy day without thinking about who is missing from the world. Sometimes I feel like I am riding in a boat on the ocean being lifted up really high and dropped really low.”
“That’s a great description,” said Julie. “So, when you are on the swell and up high you feel like you will never be down again. But then you ride it to the trough and realize all the highs are momentary and the troughs seem too long.”
“Exactly,” Frederick responded. “When did you get smart like that?”
“I don’t know that I am,” Julie answered. “But you know what I do think? Even though you feel like you need to be alone when you are in the troughs, I think it is better if you are with all of us. Then, we can be there, listen, and hang with you when it hurts instead of you trying to do all that alone.”
He thought about that for a moment and nodded, grabbed another Kleenex to wipe his eyes and said, “Makes sense.”
We painted and colored, then the three of us played JENGA for the longest time. I won the first round and then Frederick the next two. Playing that and another game, laughing, eating snacks, and listening to Julie talk filled the next hours. The parents kept talking.
Then Mrs. McScott said, “I planned an easy dinner. Would you stay and join us for it?”
“Sure,” said the lady and man, then, the lady said, “I can help you get it ready!”
“That would be great. Now, kids, you have about 15 minutes and we will need to clear the table for dinner. Can you finish up your game by then?”
“Yes, mom, no big deal there,” Frederick said. He sounded brighter.
“Great,” she said. Then to the man and Mr. McScott. “Guys, how about when they finish the game, you two set the table.”
“Okay, Evelyn,” called back Mr. McScott and continued what looked like his deep conversation with the man.
We all agreed when we left hours later it was the best Christmas Day ever. Everyone felt better. We drove home.
As I listen to Skye snoring, Christmas feels forever ago, almost like a dream. Today is the funeral. It will be a triple funeral for Kevin and his parents. It will be held at the Chapel in the Sky Funeral Home. But as I lie here this morning, I’m thinking about the lady and the man. They’ve been the best these weeks. As hard as the weeks have been because of losing Kevin, the weeks have been a huge test of who they are and how we are together. It has felt more like we are in something together and all are playing on the same team. When the man moved home after the assembly, it was a test. He has passed it multiple times. But especially in these weeks, he’s been safe and well, I have to say it, acting like a dad. And the lady, she already has been like a mom.
For years I have only thought of them as the lady and the man, people distant and disconnected from my life, the people who hurt me. They cared for my needs but abandoned me. I couldn’t forgive them, so kept them at arms lengths in my head and heart. But today, I consider for the first time in my life that maybe like Jesus told me in the root tree cave, they were in my life for a purpose and me in theirs.
Like I’ve told you, my whole life I thought of them by distant labels rather than names. It hurt less somehow when I didn’t expect them to behave like a mom and dad might. So, I’ve only spoken of them in my head as if they are the titles—the man with the car, and the lady in the white house. But now, this morning, I’m wondering if it is time to begin to change my mind about them. I’m wondering if I need to draw them closer as they have embraced me.
I try saying quietly the words “Mom” and “Dad.” I want to see what those names feel like inside my head and to try forming them with my lips. Then joy fills me. Those bubbles start to bubble up inside me and I know, right then. This is the right thing. Jesus wants me to forgive them.
The thought brings tears, so many tears. It is like when I once had an infected sliver, when the lady put in the needle all this puss came out. “Forgive them, child.” I hear within my heart.
I remember Miss Jeanne talked about forgiveness. She said, “You are not saying what someone did was not bad. No, in forgiveness you are saying it was so bad, so big, so terrible, only God can hold it for you. It cannot be held by your own heart. First, you forgive, you say, ‘I release this person from my harsh judgment,’ but then, you need to tell God how their sin against you made you feel, and let your feelings go to the Lord too. Forgiveness is both practical and emotional. It is a legal transaction, Jesus died so you can set them free. Place them under His blood. But also, something that is deeply personal, it is an honest release of the pain they caused.”
I remember the class when she said it and continue. Jesus. I forgive the lady and the man, I mean, mom and dad. I forgive them for yelling, and fighting, and the man for grabbing me by the hair and kicking me.
Tears flow from my eyes.
I forgive the lady for pushing me down the stairs when I was three and then acting like I had fallen accidentally. She felt terrible, I remember that too. I forgive them for not picking me up when I was crying and an infant in the crib. I forgive them for all the fights. Jesus, so many loud fights. I forgive the man for doubting I was his and for all the mean things I heard when I was inside the lady. I forgive them.
I speak on and on, inside my heart, releasing one thing after another. Pictures of what they did come to mind, one after another. For each, I forgive that too. It seems like a long time later after I have run out of things to forgive, I begin to say, and here’s the pain of all those actions, Jesus, and start to cry. The tears come and deep sobs like they will never stop. So, I continue to cry and then open my eyes and there looking at me, kneeling by the bed, as light has begun to fill my room is my dad. He looks tender, concerned and kisses away a tear.
“Hey,” he says, quietly. He crawls up next to me on the bed, pulls me into his arms, and holds me there. I let the tears come. Tears of forgiveness, of releasing all the pent-up pain, of Kevin, and then suddenly the tears change to thanks for this dad holding me. I hear the beat of his heart and feel the rise and fall of his chest with each breath.
“Hey buddy,” he says, “We are here for you. Also, I hadn’t told you this yet, but Nana and Papa are flying in this morning because they wanted to be here for you on the day of Kevin’s funeral. Their plane lands at 10 am. So, they will here before noon. The funeral is at three, so we will have some time with them before we need to head over there. We are in this together. You are not alone.”
Suddenly those words mean so much to me. This is what I had always wanted. I wrap my arms around his back and hug him and say with much difficulty,“Thaaaaaankkkks Daaaad.”
He starts crying. “Phillip! Phillip! You spoke! You said my name!”
I nod against his chest.
The story of the morning is my second sentence, the first one was at Thanksgiving when I said down the table “Max, Jesus is Real.” What catches the headlines is, “Phillip said my name! He said, ‘Thanks Dad.’”
Mom hears and cries too. She gives me the hugest hug and says, “This is a miracle, today, Phillip. And for you to speak Daddy’s name first, it will change his whole life. He has regretted so many things he has said and done over the years. He has wanted to make them up to you. I’m so thankful, I…” she can’t finish her sentence through tears, so just hugs me tighter.
When Nana and Papa arrive, they too hear I had spoken again, this time saying, “Thanks Dad.” Nana gives me a big crunchy hug.
“Oh, Phillip. How often have I circled your name on my prayer wall and prayed for you to find your words! In fact, I was telling the person next to us on our flight about you.”
Dad makes a gesture with open hands and laughs.
“Oh, yes, Michael! Can you imagine? Me talking to strangers?”
Everyone around us in the kitchen listening in, laughs.
“Her name was Mable Stuart. She was from North Dakota, fluent in Spanish, and a missionary serving in a town south of Puerto Vallarta. She’d been there over twenty years. In our conversation I told your story and played a bit of the assembly that I had recorded on my phone. It is not the best recording, but she looked up, shocked, and said ‘Such music is being played by a boy who is just over 6 years old?’ Yes, I told her! Amazing, right?
“‘It is on the verge of a miracle,’ she told me. So, I told her more of your story, and by the end we were crying and praying together both for you and about the wondrous person you are and gave God thanks for the healing brought to many through you.”
“You should have seen them,” Papa says. “They were like these shining lights on the plane as they talked on and on. Our whole section of the plane began to listen in on their conversation. I saw the folks across the aisle wiping their eyes. The flight attendant stopped to listen for a bit as well and asked a couple questions. Nana played the recording for her as well. She started to cry, so went back to the galley to wipe her eyes. You see, God used the story for many others as well. Phillip,” he said gruffly, placing his hand on my shoulder. “You are making a big impact around the world, and you have not even left town yet!” Then he wiped his eyes, too.
“We don’t need to stand here longer; we have plenty of time. Could I get you any food or something to drink?” Mom asks. I like thinking of her with the name mom. She and dad don’t even know that for a long time I only thought of them with titles! The forgiveness helped this morning. All my defenses are down. I want to be near them. I want them to hold me. I don’t want to just escape any longer.
“Oh, let’s sit in the living room,” Nana says. “Just water for me. Papa? What will you have?”
“Do you have any coffee made, Dorothy?” he asks.
“Of course, I do. I’ll bring it to you in there.”
As we walk into the living room Nana says, “Phillip, we are so sorry about the death of Kevin! When we heard in Mexico, it took our breath away. We prayed together for you and your family. And began to sense that we ought to cut short our time in Mexico and come back up to be near your family in this season. The loss of a friend is a big thing, so this year we had just a month in Mexico instead of six months! Also, this way, if the weather does clear up before April, perhaps we could take you horseback riding sooner.”
I hug them both again. We sit together on the couch; Skye sits at to my feet.
“Are you playing today at the funeral?” Nana asks.
“What piece or pieces are you going to play?”
I get up and bring the music over for her to see.
“‘Rhapsody in Blue!’ I love that piece,” Nana announces. I smile and then show her the next one, “‘Wedding Day At Troldhaugen.’ Do I know that one? Can you play a bit of it?”
I go to the keyboard and begin to play.
“Ah, yes, I know it. But don’t stop. No reason to stop your music.”
So, I play through it all the way seeing this happy brook of water running down the side of a mountain into a valley filled with flowers, and lots of animals drinking from the water. When I finish, everyone is in the living room, Nana and Papa have their water and coffee, and Mom and Dad are sitting beside Skye on the floor.
“Then he will also play, ‘How Great is Our God,’ by Chris Tomlin,” Mom says to Nana. “Do you want to play that one now too?” she asks me.
So, I do. Playing feels so free, so full of language and colors to me. Everyone sings. The room fills with the beauty of Jesus.
I am wearing my blue suit, my purple button-down shirt, my brightly-colored tie with a mix of colors, including flecks of bright red, and of course, since it is a funeral, my black shoes. In Kevin’s honor I am wearing really bright psychedelic socks. Mom wanted me to wear dark ones, but I pointed to the picture on the desk in my room. It is of me and Kevin and he’s handing me these socks. He gave them to me. He’d found them once when he was downtown with his mom, and she had let him buy them.
“So, you want to wear them in his honor and memory?” Mom had asked.
I had nodded.
“I get it. What a great idea,” she had responded.
Chapel in the Sky Funeral Home sits on this bluff overlooking the Willamette River. The buildings are kind of space-age looking. Big sky-blue domes and spires. The chapel itself is massive, twice the size of the sanctuary at our church. The arched ceiling is painted with angels and bright colors. The yellow carpeted floor and the blue, grey and white fabric chairs arranged in three sets of long rows give the impression of being seated in the clouds. At the front sits a grand piano on the high stage under a spotlight.
Everyone is here. All kinds of parents and kids from school, church and Sunday school. There are others I don’t know at all who must be relatives.
We take the programs handed to us by the tall man in the dark suit with a pasty smile, then walk on the yellow carpet up a side aisle and find chairs next to Miss Jeanne. She pats the chair next to her and gives me a hug when I sit down. On the same row sit Maggie and Henry, Laura, Dr. and Melinda Tyler and their boys, and Mrs. Olson. She leans forward and waves to me.
I look at the program. On the cover is a picture of Kevin and his parents. He is smiling. He looks happy. Suddenly, I miss him terribly. I wish his arm was around my shoulder. I want to hear him say, “Dude, you got this.”
I lean into mom. The name feels right and foreign at the same time. She places an arm around me and hugs me close. Tears come. Sobs come. Miss Jeanne hands me a Kleenex.
An organ begins. My tears stop. The sound paints no pictures. I wonder how it is possible for music not to bring color. But this organ, with this musician creates no beauty. None. I feel mad. Kevin deserves beauty and color not lifeless sound. He is lifeless, we need beauty to recall him. The organ stops, a man comes to the front. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie, his voice sounds squeaky, like the hinge on the door to my room.
“Welcome. Today to this time of memorial for the Simple Family. Your presence here and your friendship with the family is testimony to the impact of their lives…”
I stop listening and pet Skye. He sits by my feet. Soon it is time for me to play. I walk up to the stage with Skye beside me. I sit down at the huge grand piano and then get down and adjust the bench until I can reach the pedals. I play “Rhapsody in Blue.” I see a small river flowing down all three aisles toward the front of the auditorium. I play “Wedding Day At Troldhaugen” and the atmosphere changes. Color fills the room. Trees appear next to the rivers of water, birds, animals, and the people, they begin to cry as I see Jesus begin to move through the room. The organist, sitting in the front row, is laughing with joy as Jesus places a hand on his head. But when I begin “How Great is Our God” everyone stands. Those who don’t know the words just open their hands and those who do sing and sing and sing. The voices change the room. The walls and ceiling disappear as we are together in a vast meadow. Beauty is on every side.
When I stop, the beauty remains. The people still standing clap, and clap, and clap. I bow and begin to leave the stage when I hear from all around voices shouting for more. It sounds like Kevin’s voice just as he shouted at the concert at church, “Encore, Encore!” I look at the man who opened the time and he gives me a nod to continue. I return to the piano and sit for a moment as the applause dies down. Then it comes to me. The song I first played at Maggie’s house. I have not played it in the longest time. “Amazing Grace.” Following it, into the stillness, I continue with the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” No one is standing. Everyone is sitting, heads bowed and still. Some are singing whispered words. The beauty remans around us. Jesus keeps moving and touching people by giving hugs, placing a hand on their heads or shoulders or just passing by them. Even those Jesus just passes by, still look like they are immersed in beauty. So, every person receives from Jesus exactly what they need.
They are in a place of rest when I stop this time. No applause, because it feels too special a moment to ruin with clapping. But I feel the joy in this place and Jesus, an arm slung over my shoulder accompanies me back to my seat. I smile at mom and dad and Miss Jeanne. Dad gives me a high five. Mom and Miss Jeanne a hug. I sit down, the man continues to lead beginning with, “Thank You Phillip. Can I just say, that was awesome? It was more than I ever dreamed could happen. What an honoring of the Simple Family’s lives. Thank you again.” And then he continues talking and I stop listening.
Prayers, scriptures, and then stories from distant relatives and some from those gathered. Suddenly I hear a voice I recognize and look to see Julie McScott standing at one of the microphones. “I just want to say, Kevin was the best friend ever to Phillip. They were in the same Sunday School class and so when Phillip started school this year, Kevin took him under his wing. Literally. Kevin met Phillip’s mom’s car at the curb day one and continued to do that all through the first semester. Day one, I saw when Kevin arrived with Phillip at our classroom. He stood with him, after opening the door for him, and then walked him into class. He walked him right to Mrs. Olson, introduced him and after walking with him to his desk said, ‘See you at recess!’
“Kevin was there to defend Phillip and care for him when he got bullied. He was there at lunch helping all of us get to know Phillip by telling us some about him. He was his big brother or perhaps a visible guardian angel. Kevin is going to be missed around here, big time. He put on display the faith he had in Jesus.”
She sat down. The organist starts again but then the mournful music changes. The song is the same but the style shifts. It is like the organist got zapped or something. Suddenly there is color and life and beauty from the instrument unlike what happened previously. After the closing prayer, I go over to Julie.
“How did I do?” she asks. “Did that help tell the story you might have wanted to tell?”
I nod. What a gift. I give her a big hug.
“You’re welcome, Phillip. You’re welcome. School starts Tuesday. Are you ready?”
I shake my head.
She laughs. “Neither am I! But we will all stick together. You are going to make it.”
Riding in the car on the way home, mom and dad talk with me about the time and both say how powerful my music felt. Dad is the one who says first, “You know, Phillip. What do you think about playing for more people? Like what if you did concerts of music at other places? What might that be like? Would you like to let other people get impacted by this gift of music? It seems like playing is not scary for you.”
Playing concerts? I’m blown away. I would love to play the piano in other places. I just would love playing the piano. He sees in the rearview mirror as I nod. “Okay, then. Let’s see what we can do. What do you think about that honey?” he asks mom.
“I love the idea. Let’s just start locally and see where it takes us.”
I hear what sounds like Kevin’s voice saying, “You got this, dude.”