|Herb, many years later|
got up at dawn, loaded his car, and quietly drove away.
He left a note to tell our parents not to worry, for
he’d make a fortune and not be a burden any more.
Before that morning I had never seen my father cry.
The news hit both my parents like a ton of bricks, and I,
a twelve-year-old, did not know what to think, or say, or do,
for why my brother would run off like that nobody knew.
My brother’s disappearance was reported right away.
Police were searching everywhere throughout the U. S. A.
My father blamed himself, because he felt that he had failed.
It was a mystery in view of all that it entailed,
for as an intellectual my brother had few peers.
He’d sparkled at Johns Hopkins University three years,
where he was one of the best students they had ever seen.
He would have graduated at the age of just eighteen.
He might have been too smart for his own good, and maybe bored.
There was a fascinating world out there to be explored.
Herb had been difficult to raise, my parents often said;
no punishment or force could drive a notion from his head.
He scoffed at unexamined rules and hated to be bossed.
In his rebelliousness he sometimes failed to count the cost.
I, on the other hand, they said, was more obedient.
I almost never had to suffer any punishment.
My brother thought that I received more love from them than he,
but they’d spent far more raising Herb than they had spent on me.
They bought him a used car to drive to Hopkins every day,
and that’s the vehicle he used to make his getaway.
He’d told no one at all his plans, and when someone at last
located him in New Orleans, some seven months had passed.
They found him in a frat house living under a false name,
deeply in debt, remorseful, and holding himself to blame.
He’d sold his car, hocked all his books, and had nowhere to turn,
and all the grand illusions of the fortune he would earn
had been shipwrecked upon the reef of grim reality.
Embarrassed and ashamed he yearned to see his family.
My parents were elated and relieved, to say the least,
for every day that Herb was gone their worry had increased.
And now they couldn’t wait to have their son back home again.
They hadn’t been so happy since I can’t remember when.
My father wired Herb a large sum to pay off all his debts.
It was a sacrifice for one paid what a teacher gets.
He also sent Herb money for his lengthy train-trip home.
No longer was Dad’s main concern, “What led my son to roam?”
It was three days till Christmas Eve, when Herb walked through the door.
I’d never seen my Mom and Dad rejoice like that before.
My father never asked Herb to explain why he had left,
or indicated how much he and mother were bereft
by his departure, or blamed him for their anxiety.
They simply celebrated his home-coming gratefuly,
and I remember feeling some resentment of the fact
there was no mention of the pain he’d caused them by his act.
But I was glad to have my older brother home again,
and we became much closer after both of us were men.
The prodigal was home again, and I the younger son
observe that in the parable it was the older one
who stayed at home, and did his work, and was obedient.
The younger son did not return till all he had was spent.
He’d squandered his inheritance and wallowed with the pigs.
How very like the plight of Herb, alias J. R. Diggs.
I learned so much about myself from Jesus’ parable.
I also learned about God’s love, “forever flowing full.”
I saw my father’s aching heart reach out in selfless love
and welcome home his wayward son, as God has done above.
I understand how God relates to those who stick around,
and why there is such joy in heaven, when the lost is found.