by Paul Gerhardt
Inspired by Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, I have decided to write a sonnet from the point of view of Reb Saunders, one of the novel’s more mysterious and weathered characters. Saunders’ strained relationship with his son forms one of the story’s important subplots, and is rooted in his own haunted past.
After realizing that his four-year-old son has the mind of a genius, Saunders cries out to God in frustration and confusion. He doesn’t want a prodigy. He wants a boy with a kind heart. He wants a boy who can empathize and express compassion, a boy who can take on the burdens of others while dying to himself. Saunders resolves to raise his son “in silence,” the manner in which he himself was raised. He will engage in no casual conversation with his son. He will force his son to introspectively gaze into his own soul as he experiences the pain and heartache natural to human life. By leaving his boy to work out and acknowledge his own pain, Saunders hopes to teach him empathy. His son will be lonely. But at least he will have a heart.
I began to wonder whether his story is in some way archetypal of the relational issues manifest in other father-son relationships. Is it unusual for a father to feel clueless and unwise as he holds his infant son in his arms? For a son to feel a tangible distance between himself and his father? For a father to have the best of intentions? For a son to go his own way?
A brilliant mind, bereft of heart and soul;
Dear God, a curse, a blessing in disguise?
How shall I guide him and train this young foal?
A wise father he needs; I am not wise.
I will raise him as my father raised me,
And speak not a word to my little boy.
In silence, he shall be brought up to be
A kind man, filled with inaudible joy.
But it shall be torture for him and me
For he shall carry his burdens alone.
He’ll look into his soul; what shall he see?
Flesh and blood, where once beat his heart of stone.
You think me cruel for abandoning him?
I am not wise, am I doing what’s best?
I pray that his future will not be grim;
That he will become a man with a chest.
A mind and heart, asunder do wither;
Together, ensouled, bring true life hither.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.