Leap of Faith

Read Kathleen’s essay, “Leap of Faith,” which was featured in the Chicago Tribune.

Leap of FaithI had tried to get James to talk to me all evening. He was 12. He was with his parents at a business dinner, and I felt sorry him, listening to all of us adults “shop talk.”

“James, when do you go back to school?” I asked.

“In a few weeks,” his mother replied.

“Are you going to play sports?”

Head nod—yes.

“Do you have a girlfriend?—said with a wink.

“Uh-huh”—mumbled emphatically.

At that point, I gave up and turned to the adults at the table, where the talk progressed to wine, motivational training and social media sites.

Dinner, desserts, drinks done, we headed for the elevator, each relieved the day’s business meetings were over and we could seek refuge in our respective rooms.

I rode the elevator with James and his parents. As we approached their floor, I began to utter “good-night niceties,” eager to have some time alone.

“Would you like to see my suicidal turtle?”—this in a low, eyes-downcast tone from James, who had moved toward the opening elevator door.

We were on Hilton Head Island and the boy had been at the beach all day. The shock of the words “suicidal turtle” and the realization that James had finally spoken to me created instant intrigue.

“Sure,” I said. James stepped to my side and we excited the elevator, turned right down a long hall, then left, to their door. His parents followed and we entered the room. Past the double beds were sliding glass doors onto the balcony.

“He’s out there,” James said in a monotone.

“He is?” I murmured, lowering my voice to match the solemnity and respect in the young man’s tone.

James walked to the doors, slid them open in a soundless roll and led me to the middle of the balcony which was dark and fetid in the humid night.

“There,” he pointed. I got down on all fours to peer at the small, brown shape housed in a formation of rock and stones. James dropped to his knees next to me, delicately lifted the turtle out, tuned slowly and placed it on a white, round table in the center of the balcony.

“Watch,” he said, his voice almost a whisper except for the hoarseness of his breath. He released his finger tip from the hard shell and in a blazing second the turtle leaped.

It was no ordinary leap. It was deliberate and directional, a high, proud arch toward the balcony’s seaward edge, a sailing determination  to reach some destination, windward, leeward, unbeknownst to man.

In a flash, James grasped the turtle from within an inch of the ebony depths, where moss, silvery on cypress, hung in shadows under glistening moon.

I saw James’ profile. Deliberate and doubtful, his facial expressions intent, he slowly uncurled his fingers from fist, until in the black night the center of his palm moved. It was the most relaxed I had seen him. A sturdy, impenetrable relief seemed to transfer from the boy’s upturned hand to the turtle’s shell.

Some might say it was the sea or the drum roar of ocean against unremitting shore that the turtle was trying to reach. I know better. It was neither of those. The moment was a deep and delicate balance between boy and companion — a communication of stealth and silence, neither knowing when the other would leap — only that in the moment, the pure, perfect passion of heart soaring past soul, it would be dazzling. There would be no unturned pages or unfinished passages. And in the interim, there would be a kindred connection, an awareness that if either of them missed, both would be doomed.

Something moved again. I don’t know whether it was the wind that had risen hot and heavy and carried sand grains through the air to where we knelt, or James’ parents, who shifted from view behind curtains rustling slowly in the half-breeze.