Goodbye, Iron Giant

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Before you read this you should read “Trinket Transformation.”

Saturday before last, I found a little boy under my table eating M&Ms. He was clearly eyeing my Iron Giant Action Figure.

“Go ahead, you can play with it,” I said.

He grabbed it and ran down the hall. I stepped to the door to watch him go and felt an M&M crunch under my shoe.

***

Saturday night is when the Charismatic Christians use our church building. I call them, “The Flower Children.” Sometimes I drop by and alternate between working in my office and listening to their music. This particular Saturday I came because their pastor dropped dead two days before.

Part of me hates the way I dropped that sentence on you. It feels like a cheap writing trick. Another part of me wants those words to shock and hurt. I don’t know what I want.

His name was Charlie, and he had the brightest eyes of anyone I ever knew. They were so bright and engaging that you noticed it even in the newspaper obituary photo. Charlie and I were friends ever since that day he walked into our church and asked if they could use the building on Saturday nights. That was the first time I saw his eyes.

The last time was five days before he died, when he told me about the land they bought and the building they were planning. His eyes were on fire. He was so happy, and he was doing exactly what he thought he should do in this life.

Charlie wasn’t like me. He had no mixed feelings about preaching. None. And he preached with power to a people who have no second thoughts. They raise their hands to heaven whenever they sing. Sometimes I would listen and think, “How can you be so sure of yourselves?” Sometimes I would sit in the back and wonder how I could get me some of that.

He died preaching, too. He was preaching in another town when the aneurism that was hiding in his brain ended his life. He was fifty.

The Flower Children were in shock, but decided to go on with their worship service the very next day. They felt pastor Charlie would have wanted it that way. Evangelina and I decided to go and stand with them in their grief. When they started singing, signs of sadness melted away. A hand or two were raised, then more and more until the whole room was filled with people reaching for God. Their voices grew stronger until the air was full of their singing. Watching those hands reaching upward brought me to tears.

After the service, I hugged a few Flower Children and shook some hands. Then I headed back to my office to get away from everyone. That’s when I found the little boy under my table eating M&Ms. He was a little Flower Child boy. I think he was about four. He looked a little guilty, and I could tell he thought he wasn’t supposed to go in my office. I think the Iron Giant lured him in.

Of all the toys in my office, the Iron Giant is my favorite. He stands 22 inches high, talks, and eats metal cars. You can see how tempting that would be for a little boy. Sometimes I open the door and say, “Hey Giant.”

So I stepped on the M&M and watched him run down the hall with the Iron Giant under his arm, bumping against his little legs. His mother caught him and said, “No. You’re not supposed to play with that.”

Then she saw me and said, “I’m sorry. He knows he’s not supposed to go in your office, but he’s always looking at that robot.”

His older brother walked up and said, “Cool! The Iron Giant. I love that movie.”

I walked down the hall toward them.

“It’s okay. In fact, I want him to keep it. He can have it.”

“Oh no,” she said. “We can’t…”

“No, really. Listen. I mean, like two weeks ago, I was thinking that the next little boy who came to my office and liked the Iron Giant could keep him. I was just waiting for that little boy to come along, and I guess tonight is the night.”

I regretted it immediately, but I said it, and that’s that. His mother thanked me more than she should have, and they walked away. The little boy was hugging the Iron Giant, and I think he kissed it. I can’t be sure, but I think he did.

I didn’t ask his name. He was a little Flower Child boy, and that’s all I know. All the big people were sad, and he got the Iron Giant. That’s all he knew about that night. So I don’t have the Iron Giant anymore. He’s gone, and my office seems empty without him.

The Iron Giant was like a lot of good people I know. Strong, interesting, and out of place in this world. And with very shiny eyes. First you wonder where they came from, and later you wonder where they went, because they never stay as long as you would like. They seem to have other things to do, good people. They take their shiny eyes, and they go away, and though you feel selfish about them, you just have to let them go. You have to. There is no other way.

The only comfort comes in thinking about how nice it was to know them, and how nice it was to brush against goodness for a season.

So, goodbye Charlie.

Goodbye Giant.

RLP

The Iron Giant Movie Site

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