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With the door shut the child sat in the closet with his fingers pressed in his ears. Tell me the truth, wasn’t it wisdom? Hadn’t he had a sudden insight into the nature of the world? One time my stepson in third grade stopped taking tests. His reason? If you take one test, they only give you another. Better call a halt right now. He had caught on to the grown-ups’ stratagem to drag him into adulthood. What was in it for him? he asked. Nothing nice. Likewise the boy in the closet had become temporarily resistant to the blandishments of the world. Two hours later, his own body turned against him and he crept downstairs to dinner. But when his parents pointed out the joys of growing up, he remained in doubt. Who knew how the thought had come to him? TV, a friend’s chatter? Perhaps he had seen a picture of a conveyor belt. Click, click— so he’d go through life until he was dumped on a trash heap. Or perhaps he had deduced what he was leaving behind, the shift from innocence to consequence, from protection to fragility. Fortunately, stories like the boy shutting himself up in the closet are scarce, and his parents joked about it to their friends. By now, I don’t know, he’s on his second or third marriage, has a job that’s made him rich, but that time in the closet, five years old and calculating what life was destined to deal out, how different it must have seemed from what he had ever imagined, so he made his decision and crept into the closet, wasn’t it wisdom?
“Wisdom” from The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech, copyright 2016 by Stephen Dobyns, BOA Editions, Ltd.