I’d seen the title of the documentary in the list, several days prior but hadn’t clicked on it. It was about a long-lost Egyptian tomb, the find of a lifetime for people who dig in the hot sand, hoping to find an undisturbed resting place of someone long-gone from this mortal plateau.

There were job titles that made my eyes grow wide as my brain asked questions. There were men and women whose sole employ was to cipher the knowings from bones, to identify how old the person might have been when they died, to determine if they were healthy or not.

In the tomb these people found, there was the first known mummy of a lion. It was a cub they determined and was from, if memory serves, something like 600 BC. There were other ‘firsts’ they discovered that I can’t remember.

What I do remember was crying at a lesson learned.

The men were digging and one of them called for what is basically a specialized pickaxe. The proper name is a mattock.

I heard them say the word, in a sentence:

Bring the mattock!

I read the words on the screen because they said it in Arabic.

It sounded beautiful — I want to learn Arabic even more now.

Yet, it wasn’t beauty that brought the tears. It was shame and sadness.

A memory, a voice, ricocheted, boomeranged, into my mind:

Bring me that matick!

It had to have been about 2002 or 2003. We lived on a dead-end street back east; Christopher had rented this beautiful, broken little house and he and his dad lived there when we met. My son and I moved there and we, along with Christopher’s daughter when she wasn’t at her mom’s, piled through this little house. It was filled with laughs and struggles. Christopher was very active with his music then and so his dad and I spent many a weekend together. I got to know Mr. Roy during those times, quiet giant that he was.

Mr. Roy loved gardening. He could look at vegetation and it would grow. He had a green arm, not just a green thumb. There were plants that Christopher thought would look good along the sidewalk leading to the front steps. Mr. Roy decided to direct the doings to make that happen and to dig out the plants, he called for — what Christopher and I heard as — the matick. We laughed until tears streaked our dirt-stained faces; not in front of Mr. Roy though. Later as we talked about the day, we giggled, ‘What is a matick?’ We assumed it was a name he’d made up for this gardening tool.

But here I was, 3,000 miles distant, feeling like I was 3,000 years distant from that day, learning that there was such a word, that Mr. Roy had named the instrument correctly.

And I cried.

I cried that I couldn’t go to Christopher and say, Guess what?!? Your dad was right! That thing is called a ‘mattock’ — it’s really called a mattock!!! so we could laugh again until we cried but this time in honor of a man who had worked hard, had cared for his family, had shown love and kindness to my son — who at that age had times where he was quite hard to love! — had imparted wisdom even to me, having done all he could do with minimal formal education.

But I cried because it had felt so easy to laugh, to make fun. I cried because, looking back, I can honestly say that I likely — subconsciously — did less laughing with and more laughing at, because it’s easy isn’t it. Here was this man who had four times less education than I had (at the time — now, it would be more than five times less), saying this word that sounded funny tumbling from his lips … it must be made up. It must be a substitute for a real word, created by a man who never learned what that was.

I cried out of shame.

I cried out of having to learn a hard lesson, one that I’d encountered at least once before about a totally different situation but one that was equally as painful.

I cried, I smiled, and when I was next on my knees in prayer, I cried more.

And in my heart, and now here, I ask Mr. Roy to forgive my ignorance. I know that he knew so much more than me, than Christopher, than our kids, likely than the people in the houses along our dead-end street. I knew it then, when I lived in his presence and I believe he felt my utmost respect for him. But this … oh, this.

Lesson learned. May I not be so quick to judge. May God grant me at least a thimble-full of the wisdom Mr. Roy had.

4 Comments on “Lessons

  1. Isn’t it always easier to judge anyone based on the outside labels they carry, educated, less educated? The beauty in your story is that you remembered. You felt the shame, and you apologized even if in only your heart.Mr. Roy wherever he is now, knows you didn’t mean to laugh at him; I have a feeling he’s smiling now.Beautiful story!

    1. Thank you so much, Anyes. I too think he’s smiling. One of the other sayings he had, which has remained in my regular lexicon, was ‘Study your head’ — which meant ‘think’. I would imagine he’s smiling, knowing that I had studied my head in that moment …

  2. Aw, we learn through living. 🙂 I love the mental image of those that can grow anything. They always seem especially God-touched to me, something about the magic of that ability to so easy grow something from nothing. 🙂

    1. It is so true … It’s magic. I have been thinking about getting a plant because the ones I know have been given to me and I’ve led to their eventual demise or they were the few of Christopher’s I have left. I now have monitors that will remind me of things like watering and sunlight, so there’s a chance I might keep a new plant alive. The dogs, the cat, and the human in the house with me all squawk when they need something. Plants (and fish, who at least move of their own volition and thus keep my attention) are quiet and I tend not to do as much for them, sad to say …

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