From a Prodigal --- Forty Years Later
By George Gagliardi
Hi, I’m Benjamin but my pals call me Benny. You probably know me better by a nickname I acquired several years ago -- the Prodigal Son. Jesus even told a story about me. That was about twenty years ago now. I thought maybe I might take a few moments to give you my perspective on the story, not trying to change it at all but maybe “flesh” it out a bit more. And I most certainly am not wanting to put a spin on it – truth is truth, my Dad taught me that, one of the few lessons I learned early on that actually stuck.
So there I am, 20 years old, bursting at the seams. Dying to see what the rest of the world is like. Because I know what my world here is like, in two words – boring and dull. And I start thinking about how I can leave, that maybe there’s a way to talk Dad into letting me have my share of my inheritance now. Who knows how long I’ll live but I’m alive now and chomping at the bit to get out of this place so why not ask him. As for my brother, Zack, he seems to be content living here, working the farm, doing the chores, living a simple country life. For him that’s fine, but not for me, I want more out of life than that.
One day I decide I’ve had it and “come hell or high water” I’m going to escape this farm and everything about it. I’m nervous when it comes to talking to Dad about my inheritance but I figure it’s not a big deal, after all I’m entitled to it. Didn’t he say I would be getting it when he died? So why not let me have it now.
(Now let me interrupt my own narrative to point out my first bad move long before I’d even packed my suitcase – Being entitled. I was a spoiled kid who didn’t have a clue about how well I had it. I felt I deserved to have what I wanted now. This was a huge mistake on my part.)
Well, if you remember the story, Dad gave me what I asked for – not because I deserved it but because he realized how unhappy I was. To his credit he wasn’t angry with me but I could readily see the disappointment in his eyes as he gave me my share. Me, I wasn’t unaware of his feelings but I was so excited to finally have a way to get away that I shoved those feelings out of the way in favor of leaving for new adventures.
Next stop – the far country. – or in this case, LA.
I won’t give you all the gory details of the rise and fall of a virginal, young, naïve farm boy with money living in the Big City – but the key word here is naive. At first I experienced the freedom I had been yearning for. I did almost anything I wanted to do – you name it and I did it. No one said I couldn’t or shouldn’t. As for the voice of Dad in my head saying no – I just ignored that. Then the money ran out, along with my so-called friends. Then it got ugly and I got desperate. I was about a step away from being homeless, cleaning out the toilets at a seedy bar for a free meal a day, when I began to think that maybe I should swallow what was left of my pride and go back home. Guys that worked for my Dad had it a hell of a lot better than I did. The more I thought about it the more sense it made. Then one night the bar got held up and I had gun pointed at me. Luckily I didn’t get shot. The guy just took the money and left.
Man, that did it. I knew I wanted to get out of LA as quickly as possible. The next morning I got a lift as far out of LA as I could get and started to hitchhike back home.
On the way back I had plenty of time to think about what I would say to my Dad when I saw him. It was short but sincere. “I’m sorry Dad, I messed up big time, I don’t blame you if you’re still upset with me. I’m not asking for the privileges of a son but maybe if you could let me work for you, I’d do my best to be a really good worker.”
I must have said that to myself over a hundred times while I was out there on the road waiting for a ride. Eventually I found myself on the rural road a mile and a half from the homestead. It was the longest road I had ever walked. I was so full of dread and fear that I almost turned around. But I didn’t and I’m so glad I didn’t.
I had my head down staring at the gravel road that led up to our farm when I heard my name being shouted “Benjamin, Benjamin. Is that you son?” I looked up and here came dad running full tilt right at me. I stopped but he kept on running and almost knocked me over. Gave me a great big bear hug – and my dad is a big, strapping guy so when he hugs you know you’ve been hugged – and was crying. So I started to say my speech “I’m so sorry Dad, I messed up …”
He wouldn’t let me finish. “Not now. We don’t need to talk about that now. You’re home, you’re alright. That’s all that matters.” And I wept, felt his strong arms around me and hugged him back. I can promise you I have never felt more loved in my entire life than I did in that moment.
Some of the farm hands came running out to say hello and Dad told them to spread the word that we were going to have a party that night in honor of my return. I was speechless, to say the least.
Had a great time that night – laughing, seeing old friends, chowing down on Grandma’s fried chicken, recounting tales about my time in LA, (only the rated PG parts, of course) and generally basking in the joy of being home again. Home.
Sorry to say Zack didn’t want to come to the party. I suspect he was pretty upset about Dad making such a big fuss over my being back. I figured he would have just shown up to smirk and say “I told you so.” – Zack’s like that. Too bad, really. I would have liked to told him how much I had learned. Mostly, how foolish I had been to think I knew more than our Dad when it came to what the world is really like.
Here I am now, wiser I would hope, but honest enough to admit a few things.
First off --when things were good in LA I was having great time and thought no more about going home than going to the Moon. It was only when the money ran out that I finally had to face the choices I had made and consequences of those choices.
Second thing would be this, I learned things about myself, about people and relating to others – what really matters and what doesn’t. And honestly, I’m not sure I would have learned them if I’d stayed home – maybe so, maybe not. So do I advocate everyone should be as hair-brained and as reckless as I was? Nope. But I do say this, some people have to wander away to the “far country” in order to truly appreciate what it means to be at “home’ with who they are and who they’re meant to be. Hard lessons to be sure but valuable lessons all the same. Thank the Lord there’s Grace for those of us who do get lost in the “far country” and need to come home and that includes all of us.