Y

ou don’t have to know him long to know that Roy likes to be first.

It really doesn’t matter for what. I wish I could tell you that it did and that Roy is only interested in being first in line for food when he’s especially hungry or for an activity that he has been talking about getting to do for months but these would be lies. Roy doesn’t show any particular interest in doing either one of these things I’ve used as an example until the line has begun to form. Then my son is extremely interested in whatever’s going on at the front of that line—and he’s hell-bent on being the first person to get to do it.

‘Don’t cut in front of the elderly people in line’ is something I’ve said so many times to my sons at the end of church when there is the prospect of some cheese plate or basket of burritos laid out in the fellowship hall that I was pre-empted by a promise not to knock any of the “old ladies” down when they went ahead of us to check out a book sale that was going on there.

We have talked about it so much, Roy’s need to be first. Any given day can present one or more opportunities to do so. There was the reception after their piano recital, the 20 or so times his Little League (or basketball) team lined up to shake hands with the opposing team after a game, even our twice-a-year visits to the dentist for routine teeth cleaning.

Then this morning, when all of the parishoners were called to the rail for communion our family stood to file out of the pew—Roy on the end, naturally. He would be first in this, too, if it were at all within his ability to do so.

But then he wasn’t.

Roy stepped into the aisle and then took one unbelievable step back. He allowed his brother, me, his sister and his father all process to the front of the church in front of him. He brought up the rear. It was all I could do to keep moving forward, to stop myself from craning my neck around to try to get a glimpse of his face and, somehow, a fix on whatever could have possessed such a shift in the way in which he engages with the world.

I still don’t know why. When I asked Roy about it afterwards, he told me that he’d let us go ahead so that he “could poke Daddy in the back.” I think it was more than that. More likely it is that Roy is growing, changing all the time in small ways I can’t see until they collect into something large enough that my weak eyes can make out.