This is a continuation of an allegorical tale begun in The Gate is Small (Pt. 1) and continuing through The Gate is Small (Pt. 2), The Gate is Small (Pt. 3), The Gate is Small (Pt. 4), and The Gate is Small (Pt. 5). I suggest reading the full story in order, but of course, that’s only my opinion.
Jack and I continued down the path for some time. We stopped at the water spigot he had mentioned and refilled our canteens, and we talked about the things we both enjoyed, mostly words, philosophy, and great literature. It was nearing dusk, and Jack had mentioned a small hostel built into the side of the mountain where we could spend the night without setting up camp. Just as he did so, the oddest of sights met my eyes.
A young boy, not ten years old, was sitting on the edge of the path crying. Another very large man with wild white hair and a thick moustache stood staring at the boy with a wry and crooked little smile on his face. He was not quite as huge as Jack, but a bit older than him with a double chin and crooked teeth peeking out through his congenial smirk. He appeared to be patiently waiting for the boy to stop crying.
There are many ways to cry. Some are dignified and somber, some are heart-breaking and others fear-ridden. This crying was simply annoying.
The boy’s cries were of entitlement. They were the cries of a spoiled brat who had lost his favorite toy because he hit his teacher. There was no real pain involved in the cries, only drama. A full-sized adult backpack sat next to him on the trail, and it looked as if it was completely empty. Given the grating nature of the cries, I was rather eager to pass him by without a word. Jack was more of a man than I, as he walked straight over to the boy.
“You stop that at once Gregory,” said Jack sternly.
“You know him?” I asked quietly, walking up behind him. He turned back toward me.
“Yes. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to deal with this. If you’ll pardon the delay my friend,” said Jack.
“Not at all,” I said, stepping back to allow some space. I pulled out some chocolate covered raisins to snack on while I waited. Gregory continued to wail. This time words of protest accompanied the noise.
“I want it! I want it, though! Why did he take it away from me?! It’s mine and I want it!”
Jack went over and spoke in hushed tones with the man with the moustache for a bit, then returned to the boy.
“Gregory, I won’t stand for this behavior. You’re going to have to act your age,” said Jack.
This instruction confused me. From all appearances, he was acting only a bit immature for his age, but what sort of behavior did Jack expect from a nine-or-ten-year-old?
“BUT I WANT IT!” Gregory screamed. His voice cracked on the word “want” as the decibel level reached new heights, and he flipped onto his stomach and began kicking his legs and hammering the path with his balled up little fists. The man standing there began to chortle. It was the sort of situation where you have to either laugh or cry, and I suppose laughing was more respectable.
The sight of the boy, who could only be described as a brat, was rather revolting, and I could tell that Jack was close to losing his temper. He remained calm, however.
“Gregory, you have about ten seconds to stop crying before you will receive a spanking,” said Jack.
“But Gilbert is being MEAN! He took my chocolate bar away from me!” he screamed, still pounding the ground.
“He did no such thing and you know it! Gilbert said that you could have half of his chocolate bar after dinner if you ate all of your salad. Not only did you refuse to eat your salad, but you stole the whole chocolate bar from Gilbert when he was not looking. You have absolutely no right to complain. You are being a child! You know how children are treated don’t you?” Again, I found these statements odd. Gregory was a child.
The little boy, still screaming, looked up at me and saw the chocolate covered raisins. He bolted over to me, wrenched the bag out of my hands shoved a dirt-covered fist into it and proceeded to cram as many raisins into his mouth as he could. His cheeks bulging, fiery daggers shooting from his eyes, he stared at Jack with defiance and disgust and with a voice muffled by softening half-masticated chocolate yelled, “I want chocolate and I’ll have it! Try and stop me!” A dark string of melted chocolate mixed with drool dripped from the corner of his mouth.
“I suppose I’ll do just that,” said Jack taking one large step to us, grabbing the boy and hoisting him up in the air by the arm. He plunged one giant finger into the boy’s mouth and scooped out all of the chocolate and raisins. The man with the moustache, Gilbert, tossed Jack a handkerchief and he wiped the finger clean, before standing the boy upright in-front of him. The boy was screaming at the top of his lungs. Any passerby would think he was having a limb amputated.
“You will stop that screaming by the count of three, or you will receive an EXTRA spanking,” said Jack loudly, but calmly. Gregory didn’t stop, but faltered momentarily. “ONE!” said Jack. The screaming got quieter, but persisted with a few hiccups in between. “TWO!” The screams were slowing and coming to a halt. “THR—” Halfway through the word, the screams were finally stifled, replaced only by mere sniffles and loud gasps for air.
I stood there shocked. “Jack, that was remarkable. I don’t have kids myself, but I’ve never seen the counting to three method work on a child before.”
Jack looked down at me seriously and said, “That’s because you have to actually spank the child when you get to three.” He turned back to address Gregory who was now wiping his face and regaining control.
“Now Gregory, you realize, of course, that you will have to be spanked for your behavior. The only question is whether will it be five swats or ten. You owe two people here apologies. One to this nice man who’s snack you oh so rudely took when you went into your devilish tirade, and one to Gilbert for lying, disobeying, and stealing from him. So, what will it be? Five swats or ten?” Jack spoke calmly in very measured words. Not one out of place.
Gregory gave one last, long, sputtering inhale and then walked over to me, bottom lip quivering and holding out what was left of the bag of raisins. “I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you Gregory,” I said, taking the bag.
He walked slowly over to Gilbert and looked down at his feet as he made a similar apology, and then marched over to Jack.
“Do you know why you’re being punished?” he asked.
“Yes. I stole, and lied, and lost my temper,” Gregory said, between small sobs. At that moment, I thought I saw him grow an inch or two, but assumed that my eyes were playing tricks.
“That’s right Gregory,” said Jack tenderly, getting down on one knee. Gregory assumed the spanking position, prone over Jack’s knee, still sobbing. This kind of crying was closer to heart-breaking than before. I actually felt sorry, because I believed that he was now actually experiencing pain. He seemed to genuinely recognize that he was wrong and deserved discipline for his actions.
Jack gave him five swift and solid spanks. Gregory cried only a bit at each one. He bit his lip on the last swat to keep from making a noise. Jack stood him back-up after the punishment had been given. To my amazement, Gregory didn’t look like a little boy anymore. If I were to guess his age, I’d have said fifteen or sixteen. There was noticeable scruff on his chin, and his arms looked longer and lankier than before. He was at least four inches taller, his chin was more square now, and his nose had a slight hook to it. His eyes were still red from crying, but he was clearly older than he had been only moments ago.
Still gasping as he finally caught his breath, he silently walked over to his adult-sized backpack on the trail and hoisted it onto his back, then stood at Gilbert’s side.
“I’ll see you tonight after I drop off Gregory?” asked Gilbert of Jack.
“Indeed, my friend,” said Jack.
They marched down the path we had just come up, Gregory looking morose and Gilbert with the same smirk he had held the entire time.
Once they were out of earshot I looked at Jack.
“Friends of yours?” I asked.
“Gilbert is an old friend. He should be at the hostel tonight, so I can introduce you properly. Gregory is one of the junior trailsmen that the rangers have asked us to train-up. He has a bit of a checkered past. Quite a nice young man when he’s not letting his emotions get the better of his reason,” said Jack simply.
“This may be an odd question, but how old is he?” I asked.
“I wish I could say he is seven or eight, given the display you just saw, but he’s twenty-six.”
I audibly gasped.
“I know. It’s painful to see someone who should know better still acting like a child. As I said, he has a checkered past. Never had a good father figure in his life. When the family breaks down, the aging process does too. I suppose you noticed how much closer he looked to his true age after he experienced a little discipline?”
“Indeed I did. That’s why I asked.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, there’s a whole group of these sorts hiking the trails. We call them the thousand-year generation. That’s how long it seems to take them to grow up,” said Jack.
“So you and Gilbert train these young people?”
“Indeed we do. One of the services we provide. We try to help raise young boys to become young men. My female counterparts do the same with young ladies. Teaching boys to be men, and girls to be women is a noble endeavor. It’s a shame it’s not more appreciated nowadays.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I brushed past it.
“So he’ll be a giant like you one day?” I asked.
“We can only hope so. It’s up to the rangers to bring the growth. Of course, if he keeps acting as he just did, he’ll never grow. He’ll keep shrinking back to that same entitled little boy who expects everyone to take the blame for his own mistakes, and expects the ‘adults’ to do everything for him. It’s his choice, and he knows it. He just needs more influences like Gilbert and myself who don’t let him get away with it,” said Jack. “There’s a phrase we often use here in training the junior trailsmen: ‘We’ll treat you like adults until you force us to treat you like kids.’ Unfortunately, you just saw an instance of the latter. You see, most people prefer to be treated like adults. There are a lot of perks to it! They just have to be reminded that the privileges of adulthood come with responsibilities too. They’ll learn eventually. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take them a thousand years,” said Jack with a little chuckle.
“Come on. We’re only a half-mile away from the hostel. We can talk more there.” With that he turned back up the path, and I followed a short distance behind.
This story continues in The Gate is Small (Pt. 7)!