The New World
Between The Trees with Captain john smith
SEATED MAJESTICALLY AT my school board issued, oak veneer throne, I gazed out upon my sometimes less than attentive subjects, otherwise known as my seventh-grade Tyrannus Middle School American History class, as they sat quietly immersed in the mental gymnastics of last minute test preparation.
The silence was serene.
The celestial slice of golden stillness was rare and majestic, like a glimpse of a mystical unicorn grazing the green-carpeted forest floor with the sunbeams streaming in through the trees…
“Wow, what a poet I could have been,” I chuckled to myself, at least, in my own mind.
The celestial slice of stillness was also known as the five minutes before a test, when my seventh-grade students got to review their notes, otherwise known for some as cramming.
I arose from my throne still silently chuckling, but careful not to let my subjects see me smile, and stepped lightly about my educational domain surveying my classroom full of studious students. They’re so cute when they’re cramming...
Wait, what is this?
Raven was not at all making the most of her pre-exam memorizing moments. Unlike the rest of her classmates, she was not feverishly flipping through pages of notes and defibrillating her brain with last minute American History class knowledge.
I approached her desk to confirm the worst:
Raven was coloring!
One of my favorites and certainly one of the spunkiest kids in class was totally immersed in a handful of coloring sticks apparently oblivious to the task at hand of preparation.
This must be handled delicately so as to not startle the young scholar, but to let her know gently of her misfortunate mismanagement of valuable studying time.
I approached Raven and very quietly squatted down beside her desk. She was scrawling and swapping out colored pencils frantically as she colored whatever this was that was so important.
“Um, excuse me,” I whispered. “Raven? Did you realize you only have three minutes until the test? Shouldn’t you be studying?”
“Oh, hi, Mr. Franklin,” Raven said, flashing her bright beaming smile, while remaining undisturbed in her undertaking of staying in the lines. “I’ve been ready for the test since Tuesday. I’m just finishing up my flyer.”
She never once looked up from her artwork. Raven obviously had a buzzer to beat before the test and she wasn’t wasting a second.
I looked down at the flyer that was so important to Raven such that she finished her test preparation three days prior.
Okay, her drawings were cute, even whimsical.
But, my clock said it was test time.
“Okay class,” I announced. “Remove everything from your desks.”
Moans arose from the masses.
“Put all your books and notes away. Your desk should be cleared except for a number two pencil.”
Raven wrote some words across the top of her flyer and stuck it in my face.
“Could you please make thirty copies of this in the teacher’s work lounge for me, Mr. Franklin?” she asked. “I will pick them up at lunch, okay? Thanks.”
I completed Raven’s request of making the copies for her at the start of my lunch break and went back to my classroom to eat my deliciously enticing PB&J, actually to this day still one of my all-time favorites. Thirty copies of the flyer entitled: The Surfing Llama and the Extinction sat on my desk ready for pick up.
“Hi, Mr. Franklin.” Raven said sluggishly as she dragged herself into my classroom with her head sagging rather lifelessly. She was not at all the chipper girl she was this morning.
“What’s wrong? I got your copies for you.”
I picked up her flyers and looked at the enchanting picture Raven had sketched and so determinedly colored this morning. It was a cartoon of a llama with long lips, catching a beautiful curling blue wave, and an excited cheerleading poodle nearby onshore. She had enhanced the waves and the poodle with little swirls at the tips of their curls. It was quite imaginative and Dr. Suess-esque.
The words written across the top were: Surfing Llama and the Extinction.
“You are a wonderful artist! Very creative. What’s Surfing Llama and the Extinction?”
“It’s the name of a band that’s playing this weekend. I was supposed to pass these out to invite people.”
Raven took the flyers from my hand and immediately dumped them into the recycling bin.
“But, they look incredible! Why would you throw them out?” I asked confused.
This made no sense. Raven was so excited about getting these flyers ready that she had studied for my test three days in advance and had given up part of her lunch hour to come get them.
“I don’t think anyone would come.”
“How do you know unless you ask?”
“Oh, I know,” Raven mumbled. She looked down and shuffled her feet. “I heard some of my friends talking just now at lunch and they were all making fun of Christian music. It’s just not cool enough for some, I guess.”
Raven took a swipe with her foot at a paper ball on the floor by my desk.
“Surfing Llama and the Extinction is a Christian band,” she said. “They’re playing at my church. I thought it would be a good way to introduce some of my friends to church and Jesus and stuff. Guess I was wrong.”
“It’s a great way, Raven! See how creative you are? That’s what so many people admire about you. Don’t give up before you even start,” I said. “Is this concert important to you?”
“Yeah, it’s my favorite band! And I heard they bring a big tank on stage and play everything underwater. It’s going to be incredible. But, my friends are going to think they’re too cool to come to church for a concert.”
“Oh, I see. That would be kind of scary to try to talk to people about,” I said, rubbing my chin stubble that I had been growing into a goatee for three weeks now. I really felt for Raven. She worked so hard on her flyer and I could tell it was important to invite others to church with her, but worrying that the kids would ridicule her and her band was keeping Raven from doing what she wanted to do. She’s one of my most independent thinkers. For her to want to give up so easily had to be hard for her. But, peer pressure, or the fear of peer pressure, can be a difficult thing to deal with for a young person. For that matter, it can be difficult for all of us. The trick is how can I help Raven understand that we should not let peer pressure prevent us from doing what we know is right.
“I know someone who probably has felt exactly like you and would know what to do,” I said. “Someone from long ago we just might be able to visit and ask ourselves if you’re up to it.”
Huh, you do? Long ago? Who’s that? And visit where? Raven asked somewhat confused and perplexed, but, at least, the comment caused her to perk up just a little bit.
I pulled out the magical, Ben Franklin timepiece. I was excited, but a little nervous I must admit, as I had yet to go anywhere. No time like the present!
“Raven, want to see something really cool?”
Raven’s eyes lit up as she caught a glimpse of my timepiece. “What is it?”
“Well, check it out,” I said, as I dangled it in front of her.
It glistened in the light as I gently laid the timepiece on my desk.
“It sure is shiny. Is that real gold?” she asked, her eyes now brightening.
“It sure is, but that’s not the coolest part. This is a timepiece that was owned by the one and only Benjamin Franklin.” I flipped it over and pointed out his engraved name. “There’s Ben Franklin’s name etched on it,” I said enthusiastically.
“No way! Wooooow, Mr Franklin. That’s crazy. Ben Franklin! Why haven’t you shown this to us before? It’s like a pocket watch, right?” Raven was now fully engaged.
“Yes, a pocket watch. It was just very recently given to me. So, you’re the first one I’m showing it to.”
Raven looked up at me with that sparkle and energy I was accustomed to seeing. “Thanks, Mr. Franklin. It’s a very cool watch …so shiny and real …real gold! I bet it’s worth a lot of money.”
“It’s really priceless. Let me tell you why,” I said. “This is history. This is a pocket watch that was owned by one of the greatest men in our history . . . Remember that I said I hadn't told you the coolest part yet?”
“What’s that, Mr. Franklin?”
I flipped it over so she could see the face of the timepiece. “All I have to do is set the minute hand on a number, which represents the day of the month, and the hour hand on one, which will represent the month.” I leaned a little closer and whispered, “And if I then speak out loud the year, it will take us back in time to see history up close and personal.”
Raven was now halfway between disbelief and calling aloud “nonsense,” tempered by utter shock if what I had just said was real.
“You’re just playing with me now …aren’t you, Mr. Franklin?” asked Raven obviously torn between reality and fantasy, but with curiosity that kept her engaged and not totally dismissive of my crazy story.
“Why don’t we try it and find out?”
Raven’s independent and adventurous spirit jumped to the forefront. “Let’s do it!” she exclaimed.
“How about we visit that person I was talking about, who might just well understand the issues you are dealing with? Up for it?” I asked.
“Let’s go!” chortled Raven. This girl has no fear, I thought.
I flipped the watch back over and did as Ben Franklin instructed. I twisted the hands to 5:21. I wasn’t quite sure how to program the year and that could be a problem.
“I am going to swipe my finger over Franklin’s name and say the year that we want to go to.”
“Have you done this before, Mr. Franklin?” Raven asked matter of factly.
“Well, I’ve never done this exactly before,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders and smiling sheepishly.
“What? You’ve never done this before? Are you sure about it, Mr. Franklin?” Raven was cautious, but still was devoid of the fear and trepidation that would have engulfed me. Fearless, this girl!
“I have . . . kind of. Last night I did take a little trip …uh, I met Ben Franklin and that’s how I got this magic timepiece …,” I responded hesitantly, as I too was examining what anyone would think listening to such a crazy story being relayed.
“I’m pretty sure this is how it works. Do you trust me?”
“Let’s go,” Raven responded.
“Here goes nothing,” I said holding the timepiece in one hand and reaching for Raven’s with the other. My hands were perspiring; hers were not!
I wiped my hands on my pants and took her hand again. “Sorry,” I said. “My hands sweat when I’m excited.” They perspire when I am nervous too, I thought. But, I have to say this young lady’s fearlessness actually calmed me down.
I closed my eyes and rubbed Franklin’s name, saying “1607.”
Suddenly, Raven and I were plunged into darkness. It felt like we were on a roller coaster and all the lights were out. We spiraled through the time galaxy like a tornado and landed with a huge kersplash!
I was engulfed in an abyss of frigid water! I fought the momentum that pulled me downward and finally swam upward. I surfaced and gasped for air, spitting and coughing. Raven was coughing and kicking, trying to keep her head above water.
“Take my hand!” a mighty voice commanded from above us.
A young, sturdy man was reaching over a boat in the water next to Raven.
She locked arms with him and he pulled her into his boat. Raven’s full, Puritan dress was waterlogged. The man leaned over and assisted me into the boat as well.
“I don’t know where you came from, but that was a grand entrance!” the man said with a hearty laugh.
He pulled linens out of a pile of supplies and tossed them to us. We were in a narrow, long boat, carved out of a tree trunk. It was big enough to accommodate about five men and their supplies.
We dried ourselves and sat down so as to not tip over the boat and find ourselves in the water again. Even though the water was chilly, the sun was pleasantly warm on my skin. The river, once settled from our botched landing, was calm.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, with miniature yellow butterflies floating aimlessly and dragonflies darting in and out. A stack of parchment papers with sketches of the landscape sat in a satchel on the bench next to the man. I knew these would ultimately transition to become the maps that showed the way for countless New World settlers.
“I am Captain John Smith,” he said. “I am one of 105 settlers who sailed from England on December 19, 1606, and landed in Virginia on April 26, 1607. A few of my comrades and I are exploring the James River to talk friendly with the natives. They are looking for food now as I am mapping the river.
“My name is Waldo Franklin and I am a teacher at Tyrannus Middle School. This is one of my students, Raven. We did not mean to disturb you, sir, but we are actually from a very long time from now in the future. I think we were supposed to land on your boat, but we missed by a foot.” I paused to see how he was handling my time-defying news.
John picked up a spyglass, plugged it to one eyeball and lengthened it to peer out toward land. I wasn’t sure he was even hearing me.
“We are here to speak to you about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” I continued. “It’s hard for many kids in our generation to feel brave enough to invite their peers to hear the Word of God.”
I waited for John to respond.
“Uh-huh,” was all he said without taking the telescope from his eye.
I turned my attention to the land John was searching. The thick woods met the bank of the river. A few boulders dotted the shoreline. All was tranquil, except for the occasional flutter of a bird in the trees and a flop of a fish in the water. It was a magnificent late spring Virginian morning.
“Of what are you afraid?” John asked from behind his eyeglass.
I thought for a moment. “I actually have a fear of heights and unicycles,” I answered sheepishly. “And of pig-shaped clouds.”
“Pardon me, Mr. Franklin,” John said. He pulled the telescope away from his face and looked at me. “I was asking Miss Raven.” John smiled. He compacted the scope down to its handle and leaned his elbow on his knee. This put the legendary John Smith level with Raven.
He looked her square in her eye and asked straight up: “Of what are you afraid, my dear brave one?”
Raven, not the slightest taken aback, took a second to ponder, and then looked John Smith directly in the eye. “I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Like, I wasn’t afraid of coming here, traveling through time. That was exciting!” John Smith looked curiously at Raven, but did not interrupt.
“I can deal with a lot that would scare most boys. But, I am afraid of being made fun of or being laughed at. And, I don’t want others to think that I look weird. That can make me unhappy …to think that people won’t like me just because I might look or act or think differently.”
“Ah, these are very valid reasons,” John said. “I understand that you might be timid to share something with people if you think it may be awkward or you won’t be liked if you do. I think you should just forget about it. Forget about sharing in those types of circumstances.”
John picked up a parchment out of his parcel and added details to his sketches of the river.
“What?” Raven asked, obviously shocked at John Smith’s unexpected advice.
“Yes. That is what I think you should do. It is easier on you that way. If you are going to share the Word of God, you can do that with only those people who want to hear and who think and act like you. Don’t worry about those who might not want to hear what you have to say. Someone else will invite the rest to hear God’s Word and to discover His Will eventually, right?”
“Well, maybe… I guess,” Raven answered hesitantly. She gave a perplexed look. “But, I think there are many who would benefit from hearing what there is to say about God, especially from you. Before we left to come here, I was about to invite my friends to come to my church to hear a really kickin’ band that will be playing. Is that what you’re talking about? That somehow what I might do is as important as what you can do in talking about God. Come on now.”
“A really kicking what?” John Smith inquired.
“You know, a band, a group of people who play musical instruments - guitars and drums - and sing, and in this case a ‘kickin’ group, who put on a great show where people can dance and have fun. They’re awesome!” responded Raven.
“I understand. We have courtly music back home with instruments, such as the lute, dulcimer and the harpsichord, We also have instruments like the pipe, bagpipe, hurdy gurdy, and crumhorn. And, we dance back home to our traditional music and in our community dances. I guess you could say we have ‘really kickin’ music too,” he responded. “And, some of that music celebrates God and what He has meant to our lives.”
“But, my little rock band at my little church is not going to make a real difference anyhow, so it’s no big deal if my friends don’t come,” Raven replied.
“Yes, you’re correct. It’s okay for them to miss out. It’s more important for you to maintain your peers’ acceptance than for you to risk it to tell others about what you believe in.”
Raven jerked her head to the side and squinted her piercing eyes at John Smith. “Are you for real?”
John Smith continued sketching without a response.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” she asked him with a hint of cynicism. She sounded like she was tired of being in the hot seat and wanted to turn the tables on Captain Smith.
John picked up the spyglass again and stretched out the scope. He stood and motioned for Raven to join him.
She steadied the boat as she stood up and stepped to John’s side.
“Take a look,” he told her.
Raven grasped the telescope and smirked at John Smith with a simultaneous nod of her head. I knew she would accept whatever he may challenge her on.
Raven held the scope to her right eye and closed the other. She scanned the riverbank where John had been inspecting just moments ago.
“Nothing…” Raven’s voice dripped with disappointment.
“Keep looking,” John encouraged.
Raven sighed, holding the scope to her eye again.
“Where? All I see is trees.”
“Look between the trees.”
There was a quiet moment while we waited for Raven to inspect the landscape.
“Eeeek!” Raven gasped. “Oh my goodness!”
Raven shoved the spyglass in my face.
“Mr. Franklin, you have to see this!”
I stood and John stepped to the other side to balance us out and avoid our tipping over.
I held the looking glass to my eye and saw the big boulder onshore in front of me. It looked ten times closer and larger with the magnifying glass inside the scope. I panned up to see the trees lining the riverbank and could make out the rivets and nobs of the bark of each tree.
“Do you see anything?” Raven asked.
I remembered John’s instructions to Raven to look between the trees. I scanned slightly to the left of a tree to look deeper through the woods. A close-up of an arrowhead met my gaze. The arrowhead was attached to an arrow, which was attached to a bow, which was attached to the hands of a very serious, well-aimed Indian warrior wearing buckskin around his waist. The very sight of this unmoving warrior with a straight, dead-on shot of me stunned me. I fought the urge to hit the floor and take cover! I clenched my jaw and panned a little more to the left, my heart racing and my hairline perspiring, looking through the trees and spotting five more arrowheads attached to five more arrows, attached to five more mighty men, and all aiming at me.
I had to know if there were more on the other side of the bank as well. I spun, rocking the boat, to see what lurked on the riverbank behind us.
I saw arrowhead after arrowhead, silently pointed and awaiting release, all in order to penetrate my flesh and strike me dead. Even the hot sun could not chase away the chills that crawled up my skin. I struggled to muster a few words.
They’ve been there the whole time, haven’t they?” I asked John. “They could’ve killed all three of us at any moment.”
“Yes,” John answered acceptingly.
I sunk down in my seat, very careful not to make any sudden movement—not to avoid tipping over, but to avoid having an arrow puncture a lung.
“Miss Raven,” John said, “you asked what I am doing here. I am here to tell those folks about our Almighty God.”
“You are going to talk to them, even though they are pointing weapons at you?”
“Yes, I am. Do you think I will look weird to them, or that they will laugh at me?”
“I think they will see you walking toward them and they will use you as a pin cushion!” Raven exclaimed.
“Maybe I should forget about it, since it is so hard to do, like it is for you, and just go back home to England.”
“But you’re the great Captain John Smith! You have great works to be done in America. If you don’t stay, certain critical things won’t get done. You are the key to many great accomplishments for a people and a nation. Your brave acts and pioneering change a lot of people’s lives,” Raven pleaded.
John Smith nodded. He looked at Raven and raised his eyebrow. “How do you know that’s not the same for you, my dear, Miss Raven?”
Raven’s light bulb lit. “Yes, I see,” she said. “It’s hard to risk facing ridicule by my friends, but I see how much more difficult it must be for you to face the dangers and doubts of the people here. People here that obviously look different and who look at you as very different.”
“It is my duty as a Christian to tell people of the great things of the Lord,” John said. “In order to do this, I left my family, occupation and my country of England, and sailed for months in a boat where I was charged with mutiny and tied up in the cellar. Once we landed on this great soil, I was proven innocent and started building the fort of Jamestown for my men. The natives have no idea who we are or why we are here. They could kill us at any time for trespassing. They will not understand my language, nor I theirs. Yet, what I believe in is important to teach and I am overjoyed that I can share it with them and that I have the right here to speak about worship. Our beloved King James granted a charter to the Virginia Company on April 10, 1606, to colonize the New World in order to spread the Christian religion and the Word of God.”
Raven was enthralled. She hung on every word Captain John Smith spoke.
“I see what you’re saying, Captain Smith,” Raven said. “Spreading the Word is so critical that you’re risking way more than your peers’ acceptance to accomplish it. You’re giving up your home, career, and possibly your life to befriend and share the Word of God with those who live here. I understand now what you’re saying: that if you can do all that, then I can risk something as minor as having some friends maybe laugh at me when I tell them about a concert at my church.”
“Yes! And who knows if they will even laugh at you? But the risk of not telling people about what is important would be far worse…just like the outcome you say would happen if I don’t tell the people here.”
Captain John Smith gave Raven his looking glass.
“You keep that,” he said. “Use it to look between the trees and see what’s really important. I am not certain of the period of time you are from, but I am certain that it is imperative for every generation to hear the Word of God, whether there is a ‘really kickin’ band that is going to play or not.” John Smith smiled.
Raven returned the smile. “If you can face these arrowheads, I can definitely face a few laughs,” she said confidently.
“So, I shouldn’t forget about telling the natives here about God?” John asked with a wink.
“No, as I shouldn’t forget about speaking to my friends. Not ever.”
* * *
“I feel really silly about worrying what my friends will think of me if I pass out flyers to a Christian band,” Raven said, back in my classroom. She fished out all the papers she had tossed into the recycling bin before our visit with John Smith.
She smoothed them out and looked them over. Every flyer was still perfect and smooth and Raven-like creative.
“A lot of people in our history faced so much more to have the chance to do what I get to do,” Raven said. “I’m grateful they did. And, I’m grateful the Native Americans didn’t shoot their arrows through Captain Smith!”