Cupping my face with two little hands, he asked “Why, Poppy?” for the fifth time. I thought to myself, “apparently, my first four explanations didn’t make it clear.” Then something else occurred to me: perhaps, like a good story, he just wanted to hear it again. At nearly three years old, almost everything is new and wondrous to Cooper.
Watching my two grandchildren interact with the world is a lesson in wonder. At one and three, almost everything is a mystery waiting to be discovered. The simplest stories are epic. The smallest details hold grand secrets. The most basic functions are often puzzles to be solved. Everything is an adventure.
A day or two later, waking up tired and moody, I found my mind wandering to those two beautiful innocents. Blissfully unaware of any strife in the world, they are not encumbered with any of the baggage we carry around as adults. My mind was full of deep fears and broad concerns; the only wonder on my radar was wondering what negative headline awaited me. Oh, to feel the innocent joy of childhood!
In that moment, I felt like a pitcher, a vessel designed to hold water and bring its life giving goodness where most needed. However, instead of being filled with the life-giving essence of water, I was full of something else. Something darker was spilling from me as I moved about: concern, worry, fear, doubt, frustration, disbelief. Unlike the vessels of my grandchildren, which were held out to be filled with the wonders of the world, mine was full of the burdens.
Right now, many of us are walking around filled to the brim. Our vessel is full. What are we putting in? What are we pouring out around us?
Collectively, we have a deep need to empty ourselves. The heaviness of the past few months lies thick within us. We are so full of the twisted knots of emotion, intellect, and responsibility that there is little room for anything else. Joy? Ah, yes, I remember. What about laughter? Wonder? Awe? Curiosity? Love? Forgiveness?
We need to recalibrate ourselves to a lower intensity. We need time to turn the dial down and rehumanize our outlook to see the good in the world, and the people, around us. We need to return to something more elemental and find the joy in the brightness outside our windows. Here, we might fall in love again with the things that matter: our spouse, our children, our job, our country, our world, our God, and maybe even our neighbors.
For me, I understand it intellectually but my “feelings” often won’t cooperate. Frustration and disappointment can be fast to rise under even the slightest application of pressure. Fast to appear and heavy on the soul – that is how it feels when we fill ourselves with the angst ridden problems of the world.
Maybe the answer to the heaviness lies in finding simple lightness. Peter Pan offered an approach when he said “think one happy thought” as he coached Wendy on the art of flying. As I considered it, my happy thoughts started with my grandchildren’s innocence and wonder. Reagan’s fearless, faltering, first steps as she began to walk. Cooper’s endless questioning of everything: why is the mole in the ground? what are you drinking? what is that bird doing? what’s on that flower? where is Nanny? All the while, his sister punctuates his questions with her own squeals, laughs, and grunts that somehow make sense – at least to the two of them. They see the world as truly amazing, wondrous, and delight-inducing. Their boundless curiosity and innocent joy makes it all new again.
And along the way, they make us new again as well.
As I write this, my niece, who is also three years old, is asking me about my “homework.” She’s telling me about her carpet burn, Elsa from Frozen, and the endless imaginings of a world she sees that lies far beyond the limits of my own perception. And to emphasize each thought, she offers the innocent repetition of words and phrases as they float across her energetic mind. She absorbs all around her like a sponge and then empties all on her mind like water from a firehose. Effortless. Pure. Unencumbered.
Today, I challenge you to find innocence. For the fathers out there, celebrate the day looking with new eyes upon the purity of your children and listen to their voices with fresh focus. For all of us, let’s walk into the day and seek the wonder that comes with it. Look out your back window and see the trees, the birds, the sky, and this life in its most basic, and wondrous, forms. Here, you can find the miracle of existence and all the gifts it brings.
Perhaps then, we’ll remember what a gift it is to simply be alive.