I Walk the Line
The young Jeffrey looks at the world with the uncomplicated eyes of a child. So Mrs Snapples concept of infinity and the Rabbi’s concept of ‘God’s chosen people’ is beyond him. Unfortunately, the world is not ready for the artless and ingenuous innocence of children. Jeffrey Feingold’s story compels introspection.
Part 1: To Infinity and Beyond
Mrs. Snapples drew a white chalk line from one end of the green chalkboard to the other. God, how I adored her! I was sure we would get married, have ten, maybe twenty babies, just as soon as I finished third grade, got a job, and could afford to get babies delivered from wherever one orders them.
The rectangular chalkboard ran the length of the wall behind her desk at the front of her third-grade classroom at the Emily A. Fifield Elementary School in Boston.
“Where does the line end?” Mrs. Snapples asked, turning her comely face to the class, clapping chalk dust from delicate Snow-White hands.
One of my two hands, disproportionality large for my age, with beanstalk-long fingers, shot up straighter and faster than an arrow. I was ready to explode out of my wooden desk chair.
“Yes, Jeffrey,” she said, “what do you think?”
“It ends right there!” I exclaimed, pointing to the end of the chalk line. “Can’t you see? It ends at the–end.”
“No,” she gently suggested, “it does not.”
“What do you mean? I can see the end as plain as the nose on your face.”
“There is no end,” she declared, rather smugly, but no matter: the line may have ended at the end of the chalkboard, but my love for Mrs. Snapples was unending.
“No end!” I cried, “no end?”
“Yes, it goes on forever,” she added.
I looked again at the entire length of the chalk line. On the right side, there was a beginning, then there was a long middle, then far away on the left there was an abrupt end. Just like life. You’re born, you live nearly forever, or until you’re old–maybe forty years if you’re lucky–then you die. The end.
“Yes, there’s no end,” she said. “That’s called ‘infinity,” she added, “because the line is infinite.”
My eager beanstalks shot up again.
“May I approach the bench, your Honor?” I asked. My grandfather and I watched ‘Court TV’ every day after school.
“Yes, Jeffrey,” Mrs. Snapples said with a smile, “you may.”
I arose from my chair at the front of the class–I liked being teacher’s pet–and walked over to Mrs. Snapples. Her perfume was to die for. It might have been dandelions or earthworms or some such scent, intoxicating to third grade boys. The scent went so well with her sunflower yellow dress and her long hair as black as sunflower eyes.
“Here,” I said, holding up my black plastic frame glasses with Coke-bottle-thick lenses to her. I was blind without them. “You need this way more than me” I explained.
“That’s thoughtful of you, Jeffrey,” she said, “but just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. That’s called Science.”
I pondered. Things were getting deep. “Mrs. Snapples,” I finally said, “my Ukrainian grandfather says just because you want to see something doesn’t make it real. He says that’s called Life.”
“He sounds like he’s a very nice man. Is he a teacher?”
“No, he’s a butcher.”
“That’s OK,” Mrs. Snapples noted. “Mahatma Gandhi said that all work is noble.”
“I don’t know him,” I said, “is he a butcher, too?”
“No, he was a vegetarian, a great thinker, and a lover of peace.”
“Well, I’m not a lover of peas,” I noted, “so I’d rather be a butcher.”
Her black sunflower seed eyes narrowed, and her face contracted. “Why is that?” she inquired.
“Because I don’t like peas. But a black pastrami and Swiss on a bulkie roll will last you all day, although I don’t like the dill pickles. My grandfather said lunch is the most important meal of the day. My grandfather is wise. He’s old, I think over forty!”
“I see, well, Jeffrey, why don’t you take your seat? One more thing–do you think you understand now where the line ends?”
“For sure!” I cried. “It ends right there,” I added, pointing, “at the end of the chalkboard. You really should try my glasses, Mrs. Snapples.” I took my seat.
That day, I decided it was the end of the line for me, as far as math was concerned. I mean, who needs it? It just didn’t make any sense. I decided I would grow up to be a famous writer. I’d live and write nearly forever, maybe until I was forty, in a nursing home, so old I’d be unable to remember how much I loved black pastrami and Swiss sandwiches on bulkie rolls.
Part 2: The End of the Line
“There’s a line directly from God,” Rabbi Hoffman said, facing the class of third graders in the after-school Hebrew class at the synagogue my family belonged to. “It’s not a line you can see. And it’s a line that ends here, in my heart.” He pointed to his chest.
Oh no, here we go again. I rolled my eyes and moaned loudly while holding my stomach. What is it with you adult people and lines?
“Is there something wrong, Jeffrey?” the Rabbi asked, thoughtfully stroking his long gray beard. “Are you ill?” He cocked his head quizzically to one side. He looked concerned, and like an owl, a concerned wise old owl.
“No,” I explained, “it’s just that Mrs. Snapples said the line goes on forever.”
“Which line? The line from God?” the Rabbi asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I’m so confused. See, there’s this line at the end of her chalk --.”
“I see,” the Rabbi interrupted, “well, I don’t think I know Mrs. Snapples. The line of which I speak is the line that starts from God.” He looked up at the ceiling.
I looked up, too, but couldn’t see God or even a line. Only a white popcorn-plaster ceiling with little cracks here and there between the recessed fluorescent lights. Perhaps the line came from God through one of the little cracks? But I thought the line ended at the end of the chalkboard in Mrs. Snapples’ class? How did it get from her classroom up to God, then from God down to the Rabbi’s heart? Or did it travel in the other direction? Maybe the Rabbi needed to borrow my glasses, too?
“And that line,” the Rabbi repeated, “goes all the way from God right into my heart.” He pointed his stubby right index finger at the left side of his chest.
Rabbi Hoffman went on to explain that the line of which he spoke went straight from God into his heart as it does for all our people, the Jewish people, “because we’re God’s Chosen People.” I was just starting Hebrew School, so I didn’t know all the facts. But I did know that some people believed there’s a guy named Jesus who chose them, and other people believed in a guy named Muhammed who chose them, and still other people who believed other things. Once, after school, Grandfather and I watched a movie about people who wore cool shiny clothes and jewelry and believed there was a great cat god in the sky who chose them.
The Rabbi said that long ago God decided to choose our people to be his favorite people. My troublesome hand shot up in the air yet again.
“Yes,” Rabbi Hoffman asked, “you have a question?”
“How do we know that we’re the Chosen People, if everyone who isn’t Jewish thinks, they’re the Chosen People? And if the line ends in Mrs. Snapples’ classroom, how does it get up to God and then down to you?”
There was a pause. Then the Rabbi slowly raised his right index finger, opened his mouth, then closed it again as he slowly lowered his right hand. There was another, even longer pause.
“Wait here, children,” he finally said. “I’m going to go to my office to make a call.”
Driving home from Hebrew School with my dad, in his snazzy black Ford LTD with slippery red vinyl seats, there were a few moments of silence. Then my dad said, “son, I’m going to take you out of Hebrew school for now. I don’t think they’re ready.”
And just like that, it was the end of the line. The line which, I guess, went from Mrs. Snapples’ chalkboard, up to God, down to Rabbi Hoffman’s heart, then over to my dad, courtesy of AT&T.