Pay attention! Pay attention!! Pay attention!!!
Those were words of wisdom from an eight year old, Ronnie D.
My first encounter with this amazing boy took place when I was in my first year of practice as a child psychologist.
Ronnie was brought to me because he was reported to be a “socially maladapted child.” That’s what the teachers, school psychologists and then parents concluded. He wasn’t a disruptive boy. To the contrary, his vices were passivity and silence. The latter had reached such an extreme that a few of the gurus that had previously examined him raised the specter of a creeping psychosis.
The parents were comforted by the fact that they knew their son was not disabled in hearing or speech—early on he seemed to employ both faculties normally but as he ripened in age they noticed a gradual shift whereby only under rare circumstance would he communicate as they wished. When the pros began introducing them to some of the diagnostic labels they were considering, understandably mother and father became horrified.
It was at that point that they found their way to my office. I’ll dispense with much of my treatment approach for if I were to be truthful it wasn’t what most of my colleagues would have prescribed—frankly it wasn’t an approach, but that’s a discussion for another time. What I did with Ronnie was sit, joining in the silence he brought with him week after week.
He never objected. Yet at the same time he appeared—at least to me—cognizant of my presence yet oblivious to the fact that we were together. Most remarkable, however, was what was happening within me, what I recognized in terms of my own experience in his presence. I’ll say that never to this day have I had a similar sense of peace, comfort, security and relaxation with another human being. Those sensations imparted on me over a period of a few months, yet early on I had no idea they were attributed to my “patient.”
After approximately six or seven sessions I recall his parents asking to speak with me. When I told them we hadn’t shared a single verbal exchange they were quickly disillusioned. Their first response was to pull the trigger, yank him from my ineffective employment. I had no tangible evidence that I was making any progress in terms of what I knew were their expectations, yet my gut instinct was to strongly encouraged them to stay the course—I’ll admit I was intrigued by what was happening to me.
Fortunately I was persuasive enough to gain their trust in so far as them permitting him to continue his visits…and so it continued for at least another two months of silent but awesome sessions I shared each week with Ronnie. As time went on, the effects of his presence on me began to impact my life outside our meetings. I was feeling lighter and more energized than I normally did—had he reversed the roles such that I had become the patient and he the therapist?
Then it happened. One afternoon he walked in and sat down. All seemed normal in that the silence was uninterrupted…until five minutes before the appointment was to end. He then began talking. “You’ve been paying close attention to things. I can tell,” he finally said to me.
“How did you know?” I stammered. “You’re right. I’ve noticed that recently I sit by myself a lot more and I sense things around me more…intimately.”
“At first it scared me,” he revealed matter-a-fact, disinterested in following up on my comment. “I realize things are going to happen before they do.”
Then he chuckled like a little boy. I’ll never forget his persona at that instant, as if he had been transported from another dimension in time and place. After his intriguing statement, he left. When he showed up the next week he stared at me until I began nervously shifting my body. Then he picked up where he had left off as if not a second had transpired between our visits.
“You get used to it after a while. Then you come to realize that it’s like any other talent. If you develop it, you can use it,” he informed me in a manner more appropriate to a fifty year-old veteran. “I’m very busy; I don’t have much time.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I responded.
“Yes you do. You just don’t want to face it.” His words were without emotion and in no way did he seem intent on undressing me, but he was calling me out—and he was right doing so. Indeed, I did know what he meant but I didn’t want to deal with it.
“It’s not a bad thing. I have only a short time on this planet,” he giggled, reverting to a childish display. “I should let you know, I’ll die soon.”
My words slipped out mindlessly. “Are you ever sad?”
“The reason I have no friends is because I have too much to do to be playing baseball or having sleepovers—besides, I won’t be here long enough to keep them going,” he informed me, completely ignoring my question.
“It must upset you if you know this is true,” I persisted.
“If what you’re asking is if I’m lonely, depressed, regretful or scared, the answer is I am not. I don’t have experiences of that sort. Truthfully, I’m excited. Just be sure when it happens to tell my mother and father that I love them.”
The next several sessions were silent. Then one morning he called me on the phone and requested I see him as soon as possible. I stayed late to accommodate him. He strolled in at precisely the time I’d given him.
“I don’t feel well. My body is failing me. This will be the last time we’ll talk but I’ll remain in touch.”
Then he did the most unimaginable thing. He hugged me.
“You’ve been doing it a lot; I can tell—paying attention. I do it all the time; that’s why I don’t talk much. Being there, you know, really connecting with everything around me, takes all my energy.”
He left. His mother called me two days later to inform me he was in the hospital. He’d developed a rare bacterial infection that when treated with drugs stuck its tongue out and galloped all the faster. Sherman marched through the South ravaging the countryside; these malignant soldiers storm-trooped the boy’s organs. In a week he was dead.
When I did years later begin my writing career, I didn’t realize it but Ronnie was my inspiration. It astonishes me now as I look back that even as I began Mistaken Enemy, the first book in my Zach Miller Thriller series, I had no awareness that the Mescalero Indian boy mystic I named Jivin who bestowed on the protagonist, Zach Miller, a visionary mission that would send him on a wild journey where he’d influence the lives of millions, was Ronnie—his influence on me rivals that of any person I’ve ever met. I know he’s stayed in touch because he keeps creeping into my creative projects.
My attempts to comprehend what was unfolding during that mystifying period when Ronnie came to my office were fruitless. Toward the end, when he began opening up I still couldn’t completely accept that he was a superhuman being. I was a non-mystical type of guy confronted with the force and power of a being so compelling that my world toppled. After meeting a being of Ronnie’s spiritual influence, one has to recognize forces in the universe far beyond what we commonly attribute to humans.
What was the magical boy trying to convey with his message of paying attention? After all my searching and deliberating I concluded that “the little dude,” as I dubbed him in my fictitious account, was telling me that in silence is the answers we’re all looking for.
He was saying that there are times when it pays big dividends to go within but with no purpose other than the wonder of exploring something vastly greater than our individual selves.
It was the message he hoped to convey to everybody during his short visit on earth, so much so that he had no time to stop and explain it to everybody. He left me with a huge assignment, one I shamefully didn’t own until years later. Why? Like all my friends and associates, I became busy, too consumed with the daily responsibilities of family and career to heed the message…until I took ill and couldn’t work for over a year. Then I paid attention, heard the words of little Ronnie, healed, and came back stronger than ever.
“My gift is to pay attention, and by doing that, I can dance from The Shadow World to The Real World and back.” – Jivin, Mistaken Enemy
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