Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mr Pom Pom


As I told you, we were at Lake Winnepesaukee last weekend. The was more than just frolic, however. There was meaning too. I learned a little about hope, courtesy of Mr. Pom Pom.

Main Entry: [2]hope Function: nounDate: before 12th century1 : archaic : TRUST, RELIANCE 2 a : desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment

Bah. Now that I look at it, "hope" won't do. Because the desire we all shared for Mr. Pom Pom had no expectation of or belief in fulfillment. It really seemed hopeless, for a time. Let's try something else:

Main Entry: [1]faith Pronunciation: 'fAthFunction: nounInflected Form(s): plural faiths /'fAths, sometimes 'fAthz/ Etymology: Middle English feith, from Old French feid, foi, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust —more at BIDE Date: 13th century1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions 2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

There, that's better. Lots of people had faith in Mr. Pom Pom, but they had faith in something else too, and went through the motions of "hoping" when the "expectation of fulfillment" of their wishes seemed very remote indeed. And Mr. Pom Pom taught us all a lesson: Sometimes you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, and goodness is its own reward and all that; and because sometimes unlikely things happen and it's best not to take your eye off the prize just because you're likely to be disappointed.

Now, who is Mr Pom Pom, and what did he do, exactly? The first question is easy. Mr. Pom Pom's dad is my good friend Steve. Steve is the most productive person I've ever met, and more fun than Mardi Gras, and a good father to Mr Pom Pom, and his big brother Flapdoodle too.

Mr. Pom Pom used to be Mr. Po Po, and I'll always think of him as that. Mr. Po Po is one of those silly names you call your kid, or he calls himself that seems to stick for a while. One day, Mr Po Po had gotten mildly older, and decided that the sobriquet "Mr. Po Po" wasn't very dignified, and announced that he no longer wished to be called "Mr. Po Po."

Call me Mr. Pom Pom.

Much more dignified. They say every man has the right to decide what he is called, but no man chooses his nickname. Mr. Pom Pom did both, which is rare indeed.

O.K., but what did he do? Mr. PoPo, um, I mean, Mr Pom Pom?

He played the drums badly on Saturday night.

You see, Steve was playing music in a band with his friends for the assembled throng of his New Hampshire neighbors on that Winnepesaukee beach Saturday night, and his sunny disposition shined right on through those songs, and entertained us all. Steve's been playing in some permutation of that band for most of his life, but now the fires of celebrity are banked low in his furnace of music, and they perform only with a lot of begging and pleading. But he's lost nothing off his fastball. He still "does the show."

I first met Mr. Pom Pom back when he was still little Mr. Po Po, and I was hanging around with Steve as he was practicing for a show. Mr. Po Po, who couldn't have been more than three, came into the empty nightclub with his brother and mother, listened to his father play for a minute, and announced: "It's too loud in my ears," and left. Kids are smart. Mr Po Po was no exception.

But Mr. Po Po, um, er, I mean Pom Pom, is exceptional, I guess. He's a big old teenager now, and a year ago or so, he wrecked his car. Really wrecked it. And he wrecked himself in the process. Really wrecked himself.

When Steve told me about it, I could offer nothing, no words of encouragement, nothing I can remember saying that was any use to the guy. Mr. Pom Pom might not live. If a miracle happened and he did, he probably wouldn't be more animated than the furniture he was placed in. What could you possibly say to help a person deal with that?

Well, we all said lots of things. Mr. Pom Pom and his family are loved and respected by all and sundry and the outpouring of concern and grief and help, such as you could give, was outstanding. Still, there's nothing but faith, and when no one's looking, hope too.

Prayer is a kind of hope. When you ask an unseen, unknowable thing to help you, and you hurl your little troubles into the maw of a universe of hurt, all the while knowing in your heart that prayer's not a lever you pull and out comes the candy. You are making your peace with the idea of what might happen, with the faith that it all meshes into something worthwhile somehow, and you're simply saying: This is not up to me. Help that boy.

So you hope, even though no one's peddling hope anywhere near the kid. And he lays there, mute, bruised, bleeding, gone from sight; and his parents, his family, his friends- they wait.

I don't remember when the encouragement and love you saved for his parents was transferred over to Mr Pom Pom himself; maybe it was when you saw him in a picture, still a mess, but eating ice cream in the hospital cafeteria. It was a long slog, but not so long as it might have been, and where would we go? We had hope, you see. Or Faith or something.

And so Mr Pom Pom got up on stage with his brother, in front of his beaming father and the assembled throng that knew him, and where he had been, and how he had returned, and he played a few songs, just like he'd done before any of this hope was necessary. The scar was still bright on his forehead, and he walks ever so slightly stiffly, and sometimes there's a little hitch in his speech, but not so's you'd notice. This too shall pass, it's only been a year.

And they call their makeshift combo: "Those Amazing Vegetables." Steve used that as a joke band name after he saw it on a nutrition poster in a Doctor's office many years ago. It must sound wry and tasteless, and a little like whistling past the graveyard if you didn't know it predated Mr Pom Pom's accident by many years.

He was almost a vegetable. Now he's just amazing.

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