The Glasses of Understanding (a parable)

The glasses of understanding.
A Short Story by Mike and Emma Colaw

The bell rang, and Stephanie began to close her notebook. Mr. Palin must’ve noticed she wasn’t the only one anxious to leave class and declared over the long annoying end of class bell, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I do.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and glared at him. Mr. Palin rolled his eyes in slight disgust noticing the bell really had diverted the class’s attention, and the tired old balding teacher groaned. “Fine, go to lunch…I will see you all tomorrow.” Before he even finished the last word, the class was already bustling with the sound of backpack zippers, books closing and kids starting to talk. 

Ninth grade is rough. C’mon, let’s be honest.
They say junior high is awkward with all the zits, young innocent friendships dying away and new exclusive social cliques forming. Not to mention, your body is doing…weird stuff. At least the upside of 8th grade is your age. Being the oldest in the school always made Stephanie feel a little more secure…zits and all. But 9th grade takes away that last line of security. You still have all that awkward junior high stuff, but now you’re the youngest. And let’s not forget lunch… the worst possible culmination of awkward for a lanky nerdy 9th grade girl who doesn’t feel like she fits in. And, to make her life even more miserable, Stephanie’s locker was on the other side of the school. She didn’t have time to take her already over-stuffed backpack to her locker before lunch. Feeling like a hunched overburdened camel, she walked into the lunchroom carrying her backpack (again). Her two best friends had third lunch and she was in first lunch… alone. You know, that lunch that’s at ten thirty in the morning. The lunch you’re not even hungry for but leaves you starving by the end of the day. Yeah, that lunch. 

Steph walked towards the lunch line and passed the two most uncomfortable tables. One was full of the older girls. The girls that have long surpassed zits and looked more like real women, but their personalities were still mean and selfish, like little girls. Not the best combination. The appearance of mature on the outside but bratty immaturity on the inside. Every pass of that table risks ridicule in some way. Worst of all that table reminded Steph she wasn’t beautiful. Or at least didn’t feel like it. The other table of doom was the table right before the lunch line. It was full of all the popular 9th grade girls. The ones that are immature in every way. Every time Steph passed that table, she had two thoughts: I wish I fit at that table and Why do people want to be in that group anyway? What made that table the most difficult wasn’t the popular mean girls, it was the fact that one of them was her best friend from 5th grade. Now it’s like Kelly doesn’t even know who she is. What’s even worse, the next class had almost all of them in it. Not that anyone is keeping score, but in the next class… Steph, no friends. Kelly, all of them. Or at least that’s how it felt when you sit three seats behind your old friend, and she pretends you don’t even exist. 

The lunch bell rang, and Steph closed her book and quit pretending to look satisfied, studious and on mission while sitting all alone in the corner of the lunchroom. Like ants walking in line after successfully pillaging a summer picnic the kids got up, filed in and dropped their trays off as they made their way to the hall.  Steph hated this transition. Her locker and class were on opposite sides of the school. Bustling as fast as she could through the busy high school halls, she made it to her locker while the one-minute warning bell rang. First spin of the locker combination failed. “Will I ever get this right on the first try?!” Steph muttered to herself. Second attempt and the locker opened. Without looking in it she opened her backpack and prepared to make the afternoon switch of books. When she turned to put her books in her locker, she noticed an old looking wooden box with a rusty looking latch. Surprised, she lifted the small wooden box up to take a closer look. A more thorough examination revealed an engraving on the top… γνῶσις. Whose is this? She thought. What do these marks mean?

Bing, bing bing… Oh no! The late bell… She was late to class. Steph grabbed her books and the small box and threw them into her backpack. Steph wasn’t the kind of girl who liked to be late to class. She didn’t like the attention. She took off quickly down the hall while zipping up her backpack and throwing it over her shoulder. 

As Steph approached the classroom door, she slowed down. Thoughts of the weird box quickly shifted to the impending awkward social moment before her, walking into class late. To clarify, walking into class late in front of Kelly. The same Kelly who used to be Steph’s best friend, but totally ignores her now and it’s super weird. Ok, honestly, it’s not that Kelly is mean. She just pretends she never knew Steph at all. Somehow that felt worse. Appearing frantic or awkward to those people wasn’t the kind of attention Steph wanted. So, as quiet as she could she walked in the room, made no eye contact and went to her seat. Mrs. Calwell, surprised to see her late to class simply asked her while she sat down.

“Steph, you okay?” Steph didn’t look up, she didn’t want the attention, and slid the rest of the way into her seat. 
She very softly responded, “Yes, Mrs. Calwell.”
“What was that dear?” The teacher said. 
Steph, cleared her throat and said louder, “Yes, I’m fine.” 

The social pressure pushed the box straight out of her mind. It’s funny how big things, interesting things, even good things can be forgotten when you are hyper aware of what people might think of you. Halfway through the class Mrs. Calwell let them read the next chapter for class. As Steph reached into her bag for her multicolored pen to take her usual orderly notes, she noticed the box again. Steph looked around the room. Everyone was quiet and reading. Mrs. Calwell was sitting at her desk working on something. Steph pulled out the box and quietly studied the markings closer… γνῶσις. What is it? She turned the box over and there was something in English. Is that new? she thought.  

Asleep, asleep, sleepy and sound, as the people bustle all around. 

Eyes wide open, but they can’t see, they are sleeping slaves far from free. Stephanie, you are given this gift, to see the ones who have gone adrift. 

See through me and you’ll wake up. But beware, beware, for if you do nothing around you will be enough.

Steph read the funny little rhyme a few times, flipped the box back over and twisted the latch. “Glasses?” she muttered out loud. Steph caught herself as the student next to her said, “Shh.” She pulled the weird looking glasses out of the box. They looked like spectacles out of an old movie. With curiosity she started to put them on. “Hey, what’s that?!” a poorly attempted whisper came from behind her. Steph quickly put them back in the box and whispered back, “Nothing, John.” 

Every school has a John. That one kid who seems to be about two years behind everyone else…in everything. Usually, Steph felt bad for him but in this moment… merely annoyed. At the risk of getting in trouble and not having a plan to handle John’s inability to actually whisper, she just put the glasses away. Steph sat there wishing she was better at thinking quick. The right thing to do and the right thing to say always seemed to come to her long after the moment she needed it. She tried to read her textbook and take notes, but her mind wandered. Where in the world did they come from? They couldn’t have been for her… but her name was on the bottom of that old box in that weird rhyme. 

It’s all so weird. Why do weird things happen to weird people? 

Class finally came to an end. Between gym and band, she didn’t have any time to mess with the glasses, but she couldn’t get them out of her mind. Finally, the day came to an end, and she headed to the busses. She climbed on the bus, made her way to her seat and opened her backpack. They usually assign two students to a seat but the person who was assigned to Steph usually sat with her two friends a few rows up. Sitting alone and looking down was common on the bus for Steph. Usually it was a book, now it was a weird box with glasses. 

Steph pulled out the box. She looked around one more time, making sure no one was looking at her. She flipped open the latch and opened the box. The glasses… changed. They looked, well… normal. Actually, kind of nice. She pulled them out and slowly put them on. At first nothing looked different. 

Steph looked up and over at weird John. He also sat by himself on the bus. As she looked at him, she could see… and feelso much more. The first thing that hit her was his face mask was gone. He looked sad. She could feel his sadness. His sadness was like visible mist. She was taking it in like breathing in steam during a hot shower. She was taking in how he experienced the world. She felt the feeling of alone moving across the aisle into her seat. She felt loneliness flooding from John into her like pouring a pitcher of water into a glass. A terrible knot grew in her stomach. She noticed soft mumbling whispers all around her but the whispers from John’s direction were loudest. Feeling a little afraid she pulled the glasses off. 

Normal… John looked normal. He was fine. Mask back on and playing a game on his phone like he always does. The whispers were gone too. There was the normal hum of the bus engine, kids talking and the sound of wind whistling past the window. Nothing abnormal. Steph slid the glasses back on and looked over at John. Again, the whispers, the sadness. It was back. Listening closely she heard a male voice yelling at him. You are such a loser; I can’t believe you’re my kid. You are destined to live in my basement forever. Then a teenage girls voice. One of Kelly’s friends. Steph recognized it. John, you smell! Kelly, that smell… it’s John, and his hair… John, do you ever get haircuts? As soon as that voice drifted off Steph could hear Mrs. Calwell. John, I’m still missing your homework. If you don’t turn it in… The sadness was pouring into her too quickly. Steph pulled off the glasses. 

What is this? What am I seeing? She looked over at John merely playing again on his phone. Steph was overwhelmed with compassion. John happened to look over at her and blurted out, “What are you staring at!?” 

Usually this would really bother Steph, but not this time. She just gave him a soft somewhat sad smile and looked back down at the glasses in her hand. Steph thumbed the frames of the glasses and thought deeply about what just happened. She heard John. Not heard him like, heard what he said, but heard like… she really understood where he is coming from. It took a bit to emotionally recover. 

After a few minutes she put the glasses back on and looked toward the two boys in the seat three rows up and on the right. As usual they were both looking down at one of their phones. She could see what looked like beautiful feminine translucent arms reaching up through the screen and wrapping their hands around the boy’s cheeks while fingers pushed through their hair. The beautiful soft hands were continually and gently pulling their faces down towards the screen. The arms didn’t just go back into the screen, they went through it. They were long. She followed the long arms as they went through the phone and even the floor of the bus. They were no longer beautiful but looked like tentacles on an octopus. Other tentacles went back up toward other seats on the bus. She could hear a whisper echoing around one of the boys. I should look away; I don’t want to do this. He will make fun of me if I say anything. She continued to follow the tentacle arms and looked deep into and through the ground. It all happened so fast. The earth gave way and deep screams echoed from what appeared to be tortured women abused on the other side of the world… Steph pulled off her glasses and instantly it all went away. The boys were just staring at their phone, like usual. Curious what they were looking at, she leaned forward and adjusted in her seat to get a peek at their phone. It was a video of naked women. Steph didn’t look long enough to know any more. Her heart was pounding. What was really on that screen? Not just the image but everything attached to it. She didn’t just see the boys and the phone, she understood the incredible complexity that led to the very moment. She felt the confusion and fear of the women somewhere below. She could feel the awkwardness of one of the boys, she could still feel the insatiable pull of the arms wanting them entranced. 

The bus came to a stop. It was her stop. Steph was in tears. Her heart was overwhelmed with compassion, sadness, and a deep desire to help, to rescue. She wasn’t mad at the boys or John. She felt very sad for them. They were more like prisoners, but to what?! For the first time in her life, she wished she could be a hero rather than hide. As she stood up and packed up her things a few of the kids noticed she was crying and made fun of her as she made her way to the front of the bus and walked off. Oddly, it didn’t bother her at all. What she watched, felt, and understood took her far above mere immature jabs from blind, sleepy, entranced teenagers. What they thought of her became powerless to what she could see and understand. It was a strange feeling to step above, to wake up, to see more. As Steph walked home, just a few blocks, still feeling overwhelmed, she put on her glasses and could see light emitting from homes. The homes had an eerie green glow and the whispers were at times so dark she had to turn away. She turned the last corner and noticed one home. A home that radiated a white light. As she walked towards it, she could feel warmth. The voices no longer mumbled; they were strong, clear, and good. It was all like a beautiful summer sunrise. Without thinking, as if something in her so desperately wanted to be there, she walked up to the front door and placed her hand on the knob. Before she could turn it someone on the inside opened it. Light flooded out, the innumerable mumbling voices that had grown distant and soft now totally disappeared and clear words rang true and deep. Chosen, forgiven, loved. She didn’t just hear them, she felt them, she believed them. Words that awoke a courage, a desire for adventure, and an internal security like she had never felt before. 

“What is it?!” γνῶσις

γνώναί τε την υπερβάλλουσαν της γνώσεως αγάπην του χριστού ίνα πληρωθήτε εις παν το πλήρωμα του θεού

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Mike & Leslie Colaw

Husband, father, pastor. I work here Wrestle through ideas here I don't have all the answers, but I love the journey searching for them!

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