At week’s end I found myself at Adam’s desk, scribing for him the things that he treasures on the finger tips of his traced hand. The only thing more precious than the traced hand of a five year old are the eyes of wonder that behold it.
Our first task was to write the name of someone special to us on the outline of our thumb. Like most kids, Adam’s first response was to name the person standing before him. “You,” he shouted with glee. To be fair, Adam does know and care for me; but let’s face it, I am a bit player on the stage of his life. He was emphatic so I put my name down and invited him to think about who else was special in his life. The answer was on almost every other handprint all around the room: my mom. Mothers ruled for a brief moment in our classroom.
Curious is that the question was an open one and there was no prompt, yet the answers were almost identical. Curious was the consistent response in a group of children for whom motherhood is at best complicated. Many do not currently live with their mothers, many of their mothers have been unable to protect and care for them, several of their mothers have been abusers. This was perhaps the one place in America that didn’t ring with Mother’s Day songs just before the second Sunday in May. E’en so, when asked about the person they most treasured, so many little ones said “my mother”.
In fairness, I haven’t met Adam’s mother. Adam’s language development is delayed and so he rarely communicates verbally about his home life. Much of what I know of Adam’s mother is through Adam’s presentation. Yet even the short story is bleak. Imagine a difficult childhood, multiply by 10 and then add some more. You get the picture.
Were Adam a young adult or even a teen I might suggest that he lauds the person that he wishes his mother to be. Once caught in a bad romance, my couldn’t-be partner said, “Katy, I fear that you are in love with the person you want me to be.” Often we place people on pedestals and revere them, but what we adore is a myth of our imagining rather than the flesh and blood person bearing the name and image that we’ve ascribed. This is a common psychological ploy that we humans engage, but it is not the practice of childhood.
Children are in the moment and quite concrete. When Adam says that his mother is special to him, he means the woman who put him on the bus this morning with all of her foibles and limitations and challenges. When Adam says that he adores her, he doesn’t mean that he adores what she might be or what he saw in her yesterday; he means that he adores her just as she is.
As children live in the moment, and invite us to do the same, I begin to realize that they do not yet have resentments. I’m not sure when we begin collecting them, but Adam doesn’t have any yet. By my reckoning, he should already be carrying around a huge bag. In fact it would be easier for me to name people he might resent than those he ought love. But childlike love doesn’t work that way. He loves. Fresh each morning. That’s it.
Perhaps that what Jesus meant when he encouraged us to become like children if we wish to experience the wonder of the sacred dawning in our lives. To see the wonder of the blue jay flitting just outside my window, I must be in the moment with my eyes wide open. When my mind and heart are filled with might-have-beens I missed the beauty that is now. And maybe, if Adam’s childlike heart is onto something, it’s time to love the people in front of me just as they are.
To be sure, such love leaves us vulnerable to heartache. To really see the beauty of the world is to be open to it’s pain. Adam’s body bears witness to the pain. Our protective coatings are well earned and some would say the better part of wisdom. As adults, we can and we must do more to protect vulnerable children who are not yet old enough to protect themselves.
Yet at the same time, as I witness the genuine delight in Adam’s eyes, I realize that he and Jesus are onto something worthy of our attention. For today, my eyes and my heart are open just a wee bit wider.