Age to Age

YESTERDAY I sat upon one of the swings on your school playground, waiting to pick you up at the end of the day. When you came out to meet me, you wanted to take time to show me around the playground. It was a nice few minutes that we spent together as we walked from one play apparatus to another. You explained each one with great earnestness—which ones you avoided, and which were your favorites. I could tell how happy you were in those few minutes—how relaxed you felt with only the two of us there, and how proud you were to show me a little world that is known to you far better than it is to me. You are only six years old, just starting the first grade, and you already have a world that is more yours than mine.

And that is really the fulcrum of it, I think, although you understand not why. For now this morning, as I have dropped you off for another day, I am keenly aware of the magic of childhood. I see today that the meaning of life rests hidden, comically and teasingly, behind the translucent tears and laughter of little children. If we adults can place other concerns of the morning aside for a few meditative minutes and take time to observe children on a school playground, we can begin to know this is true. And after the school bell rings and the children flow inside to their assigned seats behind closed doors, we can walk alone amidst the playground now empty and silent, where the joyful music of their voices lingers in the air to waft gently around us—like a field of butterflies returning from the summers of our youth.

On this playground today, the yellow hooded cup perched upon its steely stilts and accessible only by ladder will most likely be a recess playhouse for you—sitting shy and unaccompanied within it. I can imagine your tender presence there, as I can my own from long ago. On a playground thousands of miles away and many years ago, this cup would have been my Apollo capsule, a hundred thousand miles from earth and for some heroic reason piloted solo in my imagination; for I too was shy and often alone. And the sand around my feet that today finds its way unbidden and unwelcome atop my business shoes would have been the material of a hundred castles and caves sized just so for my little toys and larger dreams. The threats of litter I see within it today, waiting as if with sinister intent to slice or pierce my skin and infect me with microbes possibly lethal, would have been grand bonuses when I was a child; free little toys of metal and glass inexplicably left behind by adults who do not know their value. Thirty years ago this little playground of steel and sand would have been to me a place without boundary; a place of everywhere I could want to go, a place of being anybody I wanted to be. It would have been a virtual world, to become every dream a child could ever dream.

This playground is a place of life in all its simple perfection. It is a place of real life, vibrant and magical and safe; and in my heart today, in this moment, like the children I feel this life. I am moved near to tears because I can feel its essence lingering here from all the little hearts and minds departed only minutes ago. I feel as though I am walking in slow motion—floating almost—through a hope and innocence so tangible I can hold out my hands and feel them upon my skin. I was once made of them. But not so much anymore.

What has transpired through all the years to get me from a long-ago then of childhood to a present now of adulthood? Did the separation begin for me behind walls of brick like these in front of me today, in classrooms remembered only by scents of mint paste and janitor’s wax? Is the same sort of division growing now within you as you sit properly in your seat, raising your hand on cue, and learning the sanctioned way to place serifs upon your ABC’s?

My day is just beginning. I offer these questions to that which I know as God, and turn my thoughts to the office that awaits me.

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