I’m pretty free during my lunch hour at work, which is usually spent running errands or roaming the majestic aisles of wood and tools at the local Lowe’s. But sometimes my mood calls for something a bit more soul-soothing and I head to the park across town. The park is a nice place. Lots of green and trees and open spaces. Ducks and fish and the back edge of the golf course. It’s quiet there. I’m relatively unbothered too, which is a plus. The squirrels and the occasional jogger are my only company. Also the occasional child.
Yesterday I sat at a picnic table under the shade of an ancient oak and watched a child swing. His mother sat motionless in the swing beside him immersed in a novel, pausing in her reading to utter a half-hearted “That’s great!” and “Don’t go too high.”
It struck me how often I’ve done much the same. Instead of watching my kids live life, I read books on how to do the same thing. Seems odd. Especially since when it comes to living life, my kids seemed to be experts. In fact, as I took in the sight of his little feet kicking in and out and propelling him ever upward, I decided most kids were experts at living. Common wisdom stated that was due to their utter lack of real responsibility and knowledge of the world. I guessed that’s true. But that certainly wasn’t all.
No, I thought, they knew how to live because they knew how to have fun.
I used to swing. I thought about that. Thought about the swing set we had in the backyard and the hours I’d spend on it. There was a simple sense of magic in that act, of being tethered to the earth and yet rising above it. Of leaving and coming home. And there was the sheer joy of going as high as you possibly could and then jumping free, floating in the air where there was nothing and you felt you could go forever only to land in the soft grass and laugh.
I loved swinging. And I missed it.
Of course, things were different now. I was an adult. Responsible. I had a mortgage and bills to pay. A job and a life. And when you had all of those things, you forget about the simple pleasures of childhood. You have to. There comes a time in everyone’s life when the great traffic cop of time walks by and orders you to linger no longer. “Nothing to see here,” he says. “Move along.”
And so I did and we all do.
But I wondered then.
I wondered if there was as much wisdom in the notion of growing down as there was in growing up. I wondered if the world of florescent colors that every child sees really has to gray with time and experience.
I wondered if our joy really had to be lost along with our innocence.
I wasn’t sure. But I knew I had to find out, if only a little.
“Excuse me,” I said to the boy’s mother. “If you’re not going to swing, would you mind trading me seats?”
She put her forefinger into the page of her book and looked up at me, wondering.
“Um,” she said, “okay.”
She took my seat at the picnic table and went back to novel, which from the cover told me it was a love story set in the Dark Ages. I paused to think that maybe that’s where most of us adults were, stuck in our own Dark Age of angst and desperation, searching in vain for something we thought we never had but did all along.
I swung with her boy for about ten minutes. We laughed together and raced. We saw who could dare to go higher and who lean back further.
And when I was done, when the world called back to me, I kicked one last time.
And I jumped.