At the sound of Carver's voice the fireflies in the mason jar on the table beside our beds began flashing their lights until a warm glow surrounded us.
A surprising thing happened on the day he was born. My little baby brother was wrapped in a blanket, snuggled by Momma’s side with his wide brown eyes open. He was as still as the water in our farm pond on a mid July afternoon. A firefly came into the room with the breeze and lit gently on his nose. I watched in wonder as he blinked his eyes four short blinks and the lightning bug blinked it’s light four short times. He blinked his eyes three long blinks and it blinked its light three long blinks. Was my brother communicating with the lightning bug? Was such a thing possible? The firefly took flight and went out the window through which it came.
When he was two he was laying on his back underneath the afternoon shade of the old apple tree in the back corner of our yard. I was laying beside him, looking up into the branches heavy with green apples, a color of green that we can't rightly make with our tools and substances but that God seems to be able to create with a stroke from a divine brush and palate. I was sharing my thoughts about this with Carver, talking quietly and circling the pad of my thumb around and around his cubby cheek, when a firefly lit on his nose and flashed its soft yellow light three times. His eyes turned inward toward the firefly and blinked three times, as if he was sharing a soft light of his own that was yet unknown to human heart and mind but could only be perceived by the natural world around him. I knew then that he was special, the kind of special person who comes into the world to help it and make it a better place.
On that same summer evening, when he was two years old, with waddling walk and toddling talk, when we were holding hands under the same apple tree.
- Carver, be very quiet, look very clos’ly, and listen very care’fly, okay?
- What color is the grass?
- Yeah, that's right. The color is green. Good. Do you know what's special about the color green?
- Gween is special?
- Yeah, it is special. Look under you. Look out over Poppa's fields. Look up in the trees. Green is under our feet. Green is all around us. Green is over us. Green is everywhere.
- Gween is evweewheyah.
- Uh huh.
I put my hands on the ground, pushed my fingers into the soil, and pulled away a patch of grass.
- What is this?
- It's duwt.
- Well, it's soil. Poppa taught me the difference between dirt and soil and now I want to teach it to you, okay?
- The word “dirt” comes from the old, old word “drit”, which means “excrement”. “Excrement” is just a big word for “poop”.
Dirt is the ground. It is earth used to make a surface for a road, floor, or other area of ground. It ingrains and blackens people and things.
The word “soil” comes from the old, old words “solium” and “solum”, which mean “seat” and “ground”.
Soil is the upper layer of the earth. It helps plants grow. It is a black or dark brown material made up of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles.
Are you lis’nin’?
- Well, I want you to remember that ev’rybody in the world is like the green grass. We’re all the same. We all have hearts and minds and souls and bodies. No person is better than another. We’re all good and we’re all green on the inside.
- ‘Kay! We’ew aw good and aw gween on th’ inside!
- Yeah, but if it’s hot ev’ry day and it don’t rain for weeks and weeks, the grass gets brittle and ugly. Some people are like that on the outside. Life just dries them up and they do ugly things. You gonna’ see them and hear them when we go to town with Momma and Poppa. They gonna’ tell us that we’re dirt, that we’re only good for being used, that we’re no better’n “poop.” Ev’ry time that happ’ns I want you to remember that we’re not dirt. I want you to reach out and hold my hand, and when you feel my hand I want you to remember that we’re soil, that we he’p the earth grow, that we’re good in the world. Can you do that? Can you hold my hand? Can you remember that? Can you remember that we’re soil?
Carver reached out his toddling hand to me. I took it gently into my own little hand. We were light. We were green. We were soil. We were brothers.