Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking for the child in the grown up

I am in love with children, with almost all children. Every child contains so much resilience, so much wonder, so much determination. Whether I am holding a baby who is working himself up into a really good crying jag or watching a four year old with finger paint, I am watching a model of self-affirmation in the face of a very big world. There is no time when it is not useful to remember that we all start from the presupposition that we can take action to make life more satisfying. Sometimes, we can even make the world take note.

Often, I catch a glimpse of a child in the face or body of a grown up. I am looking at a colleague or client, and suddenly I am in the presence of a six year old exploring or a ten year old piecing something together. In that moment, I lose awareness that the adult is flawed or angry or hypocritical. I cannot, in one vision, hold both the brokenness of the adult and the wonder of the child. I get to choose the wonder, if only for a moment.

You might want to protest that there is nothing romantic or lovely about a childish adult, and I would agree with you. I am not talking about the moments when grown ups act as though they are entitled to the same care and hope as children. I am talking about the moments when there is no separation between the adult self and the child that adult was and is and holds. These are the moments when everything is possible and the world is a friendly place.

Children do not always live in a friendly place and they can become broken and fearful far too soon. But even children who are scared and hurt can sometimes find themselves in an intense and joyful focus on that one thing that engages them. They can sometimes find themselves in a moment of knowing that they do know what they want and it is good.

Two boys in my life turn thirteen this week. They walk that edge between childhood and whoever they will grow up to be. I hope that as they do, the adults around them stop periodically and see the child that is usefully, joyfully part of them. I hope that one day, many years from now, they will be talking about a big decision or a new project and someone will look and see the traces of the boys who exist this week. I do not hope that for their sakes: I hope it for the sake of the people who will see and smile and become a little more resilient.

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