September 21, 2011
I settled onto the stool beside my first grader and brushed his bangs out of his eye. “All done?”
“Yup.” He pushed his homework assignment over the counter to me.
Two large boxes filled the worksheet. Living Things labeled one box. Non-Living Things labeled the other. The Directions: Draw living and non-living things in the appropriate boxes.
My boy’s whimsical sketches of puppy dogs and various amphibians crowded the Living box. As expected, cars, baseballs and electronics overflowed the Non-Living box.
“Awesome job, buddy.” I ruffled his hair. “But what’s up with this guy?” I tapped my finger on a stick man with long hair penciled between a wheel and an ice cream cone in the Non-Living box.
“Oh. That’s God,” he said.
I opened my mouth. Closed it. My molars clamped on my cheek to prevent a misinterpreted smile from breaking through. I let my pride fill my chest instead. Too big for his britches, that boy. I searched for a careful response, one that would nurture his free-thinking mind. If I was a believer, would I consider God living or non-living? I felt my boy’s stare, waiting.
“Since you don’t think he’s real, mom, I put him in the Non-Living box.”
My gaze snapped to his. His eyes lit with challenge.
“That’s true,” I replied. “I won’t say God is real until I can prove it. Perhaps I’d put him in a different box.”
“Okay.” His eraser pummeled the paper. “I’ll move him to the Living box.”
“Are you sure that’s what I meant?” The box I had in mind for God was stuffed with zombies, time machines and altruistic politicians.
The eraser paused. A little blond eyebrow climbed his noggin. “Which box, mom?”
God occupied many boxes, depending on who you asked. But the assignment implied everything should fit in one of the two boxes. My boy wanted me to give him the answer. I wanted him to think about it. Does a skateboard have a heartbeat? Do frogs breathe? I could answer those questions. Of course, so could my precocious child.
My husband’s frame filled the doorway. “Your mom puts God in another box and I respect her opinion. Just like I’ve got God in a different box and she’s not offended. Some day, you’ll have your own opinion and your own box for God and we’ll respect that, too.”
My boy’s head bobbed in a nod.
“But,” his dad went on, “if you turn that in with God in the Non-Living box, I guarantee someone at school will be offended. Maybe we should leave opinions out of this assignment?”
“Okay,” he said with a smile and a shrug. Under his eraser, the long haired stick man faded from the box of the non-living. As for all the other boxes God inhabits? Well, I look forward to more first grade assignments. In the meantime, post your God boxes here. I’d love to hear what’s in them (because my favorite thing about being agnostic is the incessant journey to understanding the world).