Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Child's Joy

One of the great joys in my life is to watch my son, Shoghi. I've spoken about him many times, and will, I'm sure, continue to do so in the future. After all, you always talk most about what you love. (Oh, and that's also why I write about the Faith most days.)

It is while watching Shoghi, as well as talking with him, that I learn the most about myself. Also, by reflecting upon myself, I believe that I am better able to serve as a father.

One of my earliest memories is when I was lying in my crib and saw my Mother come into the room. She picked me up and the next thing I knew I was in the kitchen. Looking back on it, I realize that this seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. I would blink and all of a sudden I would be in a different room. Nothing odd there, just the way life was.

One morning, however, I caught a glimpse of light in the hallway as she opened the door. All of a sudden I realized that this hall connected the rooms of the house. It was a very startling moment for me, and one that I recall quite clearly. It was reinforced a couple of years later when we driving down Green Bay Road and I suddenly realized that this road connected the various houses and stores that we went to. In the first instance, the house clicked into place as a full house, instead of a collection of seperate rooms. In the second, the entire city clicked together for me, sort of like when you can suddenly visualize the image of a puzzle after having put together enough pieces.

One morning, while Marielle and I were talking downstairs, Shoghi, who was just learning to stand, suddenly had this surprised expression on his face. He turned toward the stairs and began to crawl over to them. Having recently told the above memory to Marielle, I smiled at her and said, "He just got it." Shoghi, in the  meantime, had gone to the stairs and was eagerly pointing up them. I picked him up and put him on the floor upstairs. He immediately crawled to the bathroom and got a toy off the shelf, quite content. He had reached an important step in his development, and it brought tears to my eyes to not only be there to share it with him, but also to be given the bounty of recognizing it.

There are many developmental moments in our life, and quite often we are not aware of them when they occur. It is only by their traces that we recognize their import. After all, we rarely notice the fish as it leaps out of the water, but we all witness the ripples that are left behind. How many of the people present realized the importance and significance of the Conference of Badasht? Probably not too many, but we know, given the perspective of history.

In many of the spiritual books released in recent years, the idea of being present is touted again and again. In the Bible, Jesus tells us to be like the children. I often think that these two are nearly the same as children don't fret about the future, nor dream about the past. They are always living in the present. Although their powers of perception may not allow them to notice the sheer number of details that they would notice later in life, they are still incredibly present.

I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when we took the little guy to a balloon festival, and I had the joy of watching him play in the inflatable structures. He would go in and bounce around with all the other little children, jumping on the inflated pillars or rolling down the bouncing slide, completely unconcerned about anything. The absolute joy that was expressed on his face reminded me so clearly of the joy I felt at just being alive when I was his age.

Another one of my earliest memories is the sheer pleasure of riding my tricycle in circles on the driveway. What really made it stand out for me was the sudden pleasure that swept across my face. It took me years before I realized that it was due to the spray of water from the hose that my Dad splashed across me as he was washing the car. It must have been a hot day, for I clearly remember wearing shorts, and that cold water felt so good. But the joy came from the carefree pleasure of just being able to ride freely in circles, imagining myself soaring in a starry sky in my spaceship.

I have similar recollections of a child's joy staring at a soap bubble, or watching an ant, playing in the bubble bath or just jumping in the pool: all of these convey the timelessness of childhood for me.

Today, when I want to recapture a bit of this simple joy, as opposed to the more complex joy of the spirit, I will just go off and do something random, with no pressure of time or agenda. I will go as the wind takes me.

Last night, as we were going to sleep, Shoghi and I decided to try and hide from Marielle. I realized that he really didn't need to go to sleep early, as we are on vacation and have no set agenda. And so we crawled under the covers and hid. I would whisper to him, "Shhh. Don't let Mama hear us. I don't think she knows we're here." Of course, Marielle played along, "Hmm. Now where can they be?" Shoghi just couldn't stop giggling. And me? It just felt so good to be silly with him.

This morning, I had the unalloyed pleasure of watching him sleep. I just stood there watching the random twitching of his toes, the sporadic curling of his fingers, the rolling and the turning. It made me so happy to see him smile in his sleep, for that is a rare enough sight in anyone of any age.

We never really know what is going on inside someone else, but when we take the time to watch, and remember our own experiences, we can sometimes make a pretty good guess.

For many of us, childhood is a time of wonder, filled with awe at every turn. For my part, as a Father, I try to help Shoghi experience as much of this wonder as I can. Most nights, as we are heading to sleep, I ask him about his day and what he enjoyed most. I try to recall with him particularly special things we saw or did, like a butterfly landing on a flower, or a rainbow on a puddle.

This is so important to me, because we can never really go back to that time. It really is only a short part of our life.

Another great memory of my childhood is the old willow tree that was across the street from my home. We would play on it for hours on end, especially on the long branch that seemed to stretch on forever. That branch, with its willowy bounce, was a horse to my cowboy, or nay other number of props as needed. Sadly, that tree was cut down when they built some houses there, but the memories still live on.

You know, now that I think about it, I'm actually kind of glad that it is gone, for it allows me the opportunity to keep it tucked pristinely away in my memory, instead of with the tarnish of age. It is still just as vital and exciting as ever, and I know I can never be tempted by trying to return to it.
Shoghi is just now forming those memories of joy that will sustain him for his life. And I am so glad to be a part of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why children's classes are so important, and why the role of the parent and the teacher are so valued. The more memories we can give our children that are uplifting and joyful, the more they will be able to draw upon them later in life.

Oh, and helping them learn to strive, and accustoming them to hardship at the same time, also gives them the strength to see the joy in all the aspects of life, not just when things are going great.

This evening, Shoghi was given a very nice gift from his Grandma, which was a joyful thing. We told him that he had to give away a toy he already owns in order to accept this new one. He chose the gift to give away, and so when we get home we'll be making it a gift to a child a few years younger than he is. This is a bit of a hardship, as he really loves that other toy that he will give away, but he is excited at giving it to someone else, so that they can enjoy it, too.

Yeah. I just love the little guy, and I learn so much from him. With such enthusiasm, he is learning how to make a sacrifice, how to bring joy to others, and how to cherish the joy in his own life.

It really is the children who will lead us.

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