To begin with, here are the facts of the story :
1. It was 1961. I was seven years old.
2. Pollyanna, the Disney movie, had been released the year before. It was about a little girl who ended up in a wheelchair, and would never walk again, and this was sad.
3. I had a favorite aunt who was in a wheelchair, and would never walk again, and this too was sad.
4. Mr. McKriffin was in a wheelchair, and just like the others, this was sad.
5. I had never seen Mr. McKriffin, except in his wheelchair.
6. Mr. McKriffin only needed the wheelchair to move quickly because bad knees made him move slowly and painfully.
7. Mr. McKriffin could walk.
8. I was the only one who didn’t know that.
….My father was a Methodist Circuit Minister. He didn’t have one, but many congregations. His circuit would sometimes include three different churches on a single Sunday morning, all scheduling their times for Sunday school and church, according to his arrival time. Where he went, his family went. We always sat on the front row, and on whichever side of the sanctuary was nearest the side door that led to the nearest restroom. One fact not in evidence is that I was old enough to excuse myself, and go to the bathroom, alone, at any reasonable point in the service. I was a good little boy, and always came straight back, quietly, and with no disruption to the proceedings.
….After many repeated Sabbath day visits to any given church, it was a natural thing to become familiar with some of the church-goers, especially the unique ones. So it was with Mr. McKriffin. He always stood out because he always sat down…in his wheelchair. You already know him from facts 6 and 7, above. I knew him, too. He was the man in the wheelchair. In my little boy’s mind he was the man in the wheelchair who would never walk again. This made me sad.
….During a particular Easter Sunday sermon, a long one, as my father was extolling the miracle of the Resurrection, his words included these, “We can never know the heights to which someone can rise, until we sincerely ask God to help them. Then, we might see miracles.”
….“That’s so true,” murmured a lady, two pews back. “God is so powerful,” was whispered by another woman, behind my left shoulder. “Amen,” was softly muttered by a scattering of men throughout the room. The people were obviously moved. So was I. Leaning toward my mother, I softly breathed, “I have to go to the bathroom,” and I left the room through the side door that was only a few steps from the pew where I’d been sitting, and the same distance from the pulpit from which my father was preaching.
….The bathroom I would’ve gone to was down and across the hall. It was marked by a heavy, dark stained, wood door with columns carved in relief into the bottom half; and in the top half, amber bubble-glass was emblazoned with copper-foil block letters, MEN. I say “would’ve” because I never got there.
….The door marked MEN was blocked. It was Mr. McKriffin. As usual he was in his wheelchair. I could see him struggling to lean forward and reach the Men’s Room doorknob. I waited quietly. In that quiet moment the words of the sermon repeated in my mind, “…the heights to which someone can rise, until we sincerely ask God…” Well, it looked like I was going to have a minute, so eyes closed, head bowed, conscious to be properly sincere, I prayed, “Dear God, please heal Mr. McKriffin, so he can walk again. Amen” I opened my eyes, looked up, and saw a miracle happen.
….Mr. McKriffin instantly stood up on obviously newly strengthened legs, reached for the Men’s Room door knob, turned it, opened the door, and walked in. Not just walked,…strolled,…so casually it was like he had always done it.
….My mouth dropped open, …all the way. My forehead lifted, pulling my eyebrows higher than designed, my eyes opened like saucers. I was completely wide-faced, stunned, amazed, frozen in place. Even as my expression beamed its dazed radiance, I was thinking, “I’ve gotta tell everybody about this.”
….I’ll always believe that my next thought was triggered because it was Easter Sunday: if an empty tomb was proof that Jesus had risen, then an empty wheelchair could be proof that Mr. McKriffin had also risen. I took his chair. Hurriedly, I pushed the rolling seat to the Sanctuary door. In my hurry to deliver the good news I forgot that the door was hinged to swing out onto the hall, towards me. I had to backup, then reach around the chair to pull the door back and open. With every movement some part of the chair hit something, whether wall, door, or my excited-to-the-point-of-clumsiness feet. I made a terrible racket getting that door open. Passing through the opening was every bit as noisy, as wheels and side rails collided with door casing on both sides. I knew this was noise beyond tolerance, a disruption over the limit, but I also knew it would all be okay, when they heard the news.
….Then I was in the room. The room was silent. To my left was my mother and sister, and the entire congregation. To my right, high in his pulpit, was my father. Every gaze was fixed on me. To a person silent scowls of disgust were lofted my way. That was alright, though, because I knew those steely-eyed stabs would change to rays of hope and thanksgiving when the people heard me shout, “IT’S A MIRACLE! Mr. McKriffin can walk!!!”
….My radiant expression was not curtailed. Already I was planning how to use this newly, God-bestowed power to help my aunt and Pollyanna. Still, …the people in the room remained steadfastly steely.
….Undaunted, I revealed my evidence, the empty chair. Pushing it more into the room I yelled, “See!…He’s not in it!” Then came the perfect conclusion to this presentation of the power of the Almighty. The side door squeaked open, and in stepped Mr. McKriffin. “SEE!,” I yelled joyfully, “he’s right there, and he’s standing. He walked in here. He…..can….WAAALK!!!!!!!”
….Then, Mr. McKriffin spoke, and everything changed, “I could always walk, son. But my knees hurt, so I use the chair, here at church.”
….I was beckoned by my mother to join her on the pew, where I sat puzzling over how rapidly my powerful prayer-moment had been transformed into the pitiful question, “What just happened?”
….At this point, the service fell apart. No one could stop laughing. My father made the decision on-the-fly to skip straight to the closing hymn, but even that was futile. The lyrics, ‘Up from the grave He arose,’ became ‘Uh-huhp fr-uhumm thehuh grave He-he aro-ho-ho-ho-hos.’
….After church, during Sunday dinner, I was given one chance to explain myself. On hearing that his little boy could quote his sermon, and convert his words to action, and give public glory to God for something, whether it happened or not, my father’s anger evaporated. My only admonishment was, “The next time you see a miracle, let’s talk about it, before you make an announcement.” -AB