Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

As a Little Child

Sunday, February 17, 2008

One day as I was doing some random surfing I came upon this blog entry by Hope:

Earlier this week, my seven year old was telling me why she sometimes has trouble falling asleep at night: “Sometimes I lay in my bed and just think about how amazing it is to be alive.”

How many adults have ever cited that as a reason for not sleeping?  Wouldn’t it be great if we were still that entranced with life as grownups?  I think most of us can remember a time around the age of six or seven when we were entranced by life.

A few weeks ago Dave Pollard wrote about the contrast between child and grownup:

When I was a child, I was wild.   Not in the sense of being unmanageable — I was quite attentive back then.  Wild in the sense of uncivilized, raw, open, unrepressed, natural.  I am told I was constantly taking my clothes off, not to show off but because I found them confining, unnatural, and saw nothing embarrassing about nudity.

I was fearless (I did a photoshoot as a baby, hamming it up for the camera, that appeared on the front page of the local newspaper), I was imaginative (too much so for my neighbourhood friends, who couldn’t follow the games I invented), affectionate (my favourite game as soon as I could walk was ‘kissing tag’, since most of the kids my age in the neighbourhood were girls).  Back then I struggled with communication (I didn’t learn to write reasonably well until my late teens, read little until then, and was nervous about singing (I was a pretty good boy soprano) and talking in crowds.

And then all the trappings of civilization came rushing in — the cruel games children play, the preference for cute, athletic, clever, well-coordinated friends (I got pretty gangly-looking as I aged, my voice broke so my singing teacher lost interest in me, and I was terribly coordinated — I couldn’t swim or dance and my penmanship was illegible. I began to acquire a lot of the fears, doubts and prejudices of the groups I desperately wanted to belong to, which were only made worse as my advances were rebuffed).  I became a loner, and not even a ‘smart’ one.

This is what we do to our children when we teach them to grow up!

As a young child I was already afraid and quiet.  Still, I had the expectation, somehow, that life was supposed to be wonderful.  I was sure that what I was experiencing was an aberration and that someday I would be free.

I live in Canada where our experiences of rain are usually chilly.  One hot summer day, when I was five or six years old, we had an incredible downpour and the farm pasture was covered in huge puddles.  As I ran through them with bare feet, one after another, they felt warm as bathwater.  Running barefoot through luscious puddles, with the bright sun shining – this was how life was supposed to be!

As we get older even the simple joy of bare feet is “civilized” out of us.  I was constantly warned of the dangers of walking to the mailbox or (gasp) to the corner store without shoes.  Responsible adults warned me that driving with bare feet was illegal.  [now, just think about this – how could it be less safe to drive with your feet directly touching the pedals, than trying to manoeuvre them with winter galoshes on?] And, for the record, it is not illegal anywhere in North America to drive without shoes.

I want to be like Hope’s seven year old again, lying in bed thinking about how amazing it is to be alive.  If success is measured by joy, we need to be careful about what advice we take to heart.  We need to keep our wildness, our courage, our imagination, our affection, our sense of wonder and our creativity. If we’ve given them up, we need to take them back.

It was a mind no less than that of Einstein who said, “Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”