There is something about school children running through dead leaves, weaving circles between trees and each other. So much growing and so much leaving things behind. They have no idea how quickly it will be gone, this rush of every minute being new. They are not tired. They do not know how to look back. The do not feel the necessity of clinging to these beautiful, extra-long seconds. I want to tell them.
Listen up , I would say in my most authoritative tone. Soon you will have choices to make. Soon your hearts will be vulnerable to rejection. Soon you will allow your dreams to be nudged and molded by the expectations of others. So for the moment, stop! Stop and glimpse your own unique perfection. Memorize the sting of a scratch on your knee, the excitement of pain, when you think that's the most you'll ever possibly hurt. Enjoy the pulsating hollow in your chest after you careen down a grassy hill and hang, wheezing over a bench at the bottom. Stretch. Splash. Scream. But never let a sound or an emotion escape you without first cupping its flawless face in your hands and planting a kiss on its forehead. All of this splendor cannot last, and the worst part will be forsaking it.
They would stop their spinning long enough to look me in the face, pondering what this odd, tall creature, this adult, could possibly know about life. But then someone would snort and someone would laugh and someone else would kick the first one in the shin. Then the noise level would escalate and the undertow of curiosity and all that is carefree would suck them back out to that airy place, that heaven of simplicity which is all they know.
I don't really want to interfere with their innocence anyway. Once upon a time, I didn't know the secret of growing up, and I do not really know it now. My home is still a haven for my inner child. I have no dependents beyond my cats, and Disney finds me to be an excellent mom whether or not I make my bed.
But today I missed climbing trees. There was this beauty of an oak in a clearing on a hill. Knobby and nearly naked, statuesque. For the briefest of seconds, I contemplated parking my car and trudging across the muddy field to embrace this natural wonder. I could picture myself high up in the branches, swinging my legs in the breeze and letting my face turn with the glow of the sun.
Then I pictured the inevitable news headline: Livermore Woman Falls to her Death From Top of Heritage Oak - No signs of foul play, only temporary insanity.
That's the truth. I could not climb the tree. As I drove on, the poignant sense of immediacy and loss radiated from my heart. You may know this feeling, or have heard the echo of it in your soul, too: The playful, moody strum of an acoustic guitar, the slice of a sharpener on new pencils, the crinkle of tin foil being pulled from hot lunches. Magic. But then, quickly following, the knowledge that destroys magic.
It is the yellow of the dead canary tumbling from the collapsible cage in The Prestige , and I want no part of it.
So, when I see those children, flinging themselves heartily into their games, loving as hard as they can and scrawling secrets in juvenile cursive on binder paper, I choose to resist the urge to scold them. It is inevitable that they will be careless and selfish and oblivious. They will stomp on the toes of the elderly and wake-up the neighbor who works graveyard and stick wads of gum to the undersides of bleachers. They will play Cowboys & Indians no matter whom is offended, and establish a pecking order which results in the smallest or quietest among them being left out in the cold. They will pummel each other with their fists and turn sticks and Legos and building blocks into guns. They will call names and gossip. They will bust toys and throw balls over fences and shatter the occasional window. They will forget to say Thank You or Please or Excuse Me or Sorry. They will disrespect their parents, neglect their friends, undermine authority figures and underestimate themselves.
Yes, they absolutely will clap their hands and beg the magician to make the twittering yellow bird disappear and reappear, again and again and again, completely oblivious to the rising body count backstage.
But gazing over the chaotic sea of swirling children, I find myself smiling. For these children, every day might still be fresh and free. From each nightly chrysalis they will awake and push out toward the sun they crave, arching their backs and stretching as they roll from beneath their blankets. Tiny tragedies and miniature dramas from the days and weeks before are forgotten in the quest for breakfast and the school bus.
And best of all, every second will hold the possibility of Discovery, the chance at forming a new facet of self. They, the same savages who cannot see beyond the ends of their own noses, will experience the fervor of learning everything for the first time.
Science, technology, nature, math, psychology, philosophy, religion, space, history, geography, language, law, martial arts, business, politics, poetry, art, rocks, bones, romance, self.
For some, this thrill will come in the form of words. Words pouring in from all sides! They will build a pyramid of personal vocabulary, transport themselves into the adventures of pirates and orphans and kings and hobbits. Reading! Oh, good God, to learn to read all over again!
For others it will be the pounding rush of athleticism. Personal achievement and teamwork, strategy tugging at the corners of the mind, expanding it like a trampoline. The crack of bat against ball, bruises and sweat, the primal ecstasy that comes when muscle overcomes muscle.
Whatever they choose to pursue, whatever they track through the woods and conquer and ride into the sunset, whatever adheres to their minds and hearts, the sheer capacity for personal victory is well-worth the growing up. Attaining perspective can require strength and stamina, and sometimes results in altitude sickness. From the top, though, after surviving childhood and wrenching themselves from the grasp of the maternal arms they hate to admit they'll miss, the former children can see the twisted paths they chose as the means to a good end. Perhaps they will commit to having greater patience with their own children as a result. Perhaps they will acknowledge the dead canary and honor tradition by choosing to participate in the "magic" they know does not exist so that their own children have the chance to experience the awe of the impossible for themselves.
And so this painful, precious cycle will repeat, much to the delight of the God who set it all in motion.