Twelve years old. It sets me thinking. My Bill is twelve too. Only he is not here. Where? I don’t know. That is the trouble. I don’t know where. But somewhere I do know. People like Billy—my Billy—don’t’ just go away into nowhere. Not if life means anything. Not if there is a God; not unless we are all crazy. Maybe we are, but I don’t think so.
He came and stayed eight years. He was a real boy. Interested in everything and full of questions, some of which he had answered before he went away. More of which whe knows about by this time.
I watch the other boys about twelve years old and it sets me thinking. Asking questions dozens of them that I can’t answer. “My Father knows,” said Bill, one time to his teacher. And I say that too, jut that and leave it so—“My Father knows.”
But I say, “Why?” as Billy did. No answer comes to my most pointed Why. But none came to That Other Quester who said, as I say violently at times, “My God, Why?” No answer came to Him, and he said “Father.” And said it to the end. I’ll try and say it, too.
But Billy. I saw him last, his head swathed in a surgeon’s bandage. Not the ones that they did when they operated on his crushed skull. For after all was over and the mortician had done his best in a bandage, there came to our house two young surgeons, they had helped their chief in that double operation, as I looked on so helpless. One of them stayed all night and all the day till Billy went. He knew as I half guessed that Billy must go.
Three pairs of hands that worked as one. Few words, but nods, a flash of eyes, a gesture, on they worked, for hours—centuries it seemed to me.
So here he rested in his coffin, they came, those boys and put a real surgeon’s bandage on, neat and tight and trim and white. The last I think I saw was that and if I am conscious when I die I think I’ll see it then. It burned its white upon my memory.
I’m not morbid—often. The gay smile of that lad. His thoughtfulness, his joy in living and his love have stayed, and will. He’ll not come back. I know it now, though still I look odd times when other boys come trooping in.
There will be at confirmation this Eastertide some twelve year olds. Bill would have been with them. He loved the church. His father, I, a preacher and Sunday mornings early we came over together. He to open doors and windows and later to distribute bulletins and things. More than once when he was little, he slipped into the pulpit chair and sat down, before or during service. He loved the church.
When confirmation comes at Easter, I hope I’ll think of him as There, not here for if I do I may break down (only for a moment), but that’s not fair to faith, nor to the other boys who stand before me in the chancel.