Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, July 28, 2010
So far, summer has been, at the very least relaxed, and at the most, pure indulgence. The boy and I stay up too late, sleep in until all hours and accomplish little. I know this is the last, real summer I’ll have with a child at home and I’m going to enjoy it. I refuse to feel guilty.
Our last summer together is a watershed moment. As a result, I’m finally discovering things I probably should have known a long time ago.
My friend Karen began living her dream. After years of raising children, and watching the last one leave home, she decided it was time to pursue the ideal. Her loves are music and dance, and she wanted her own dance studio.
In a conversation about living authentically, listening to and trusting one’s gut, she told me about what she calls “Four-year-old eyes.”
She has dance students of all ages, but one of the most intriguing discoveries of her new life was finding that in order to accomplish anything in class, her mirrored wall had to be covered when the youngest dancers were in the studio.
Why? They look lovingly at themselves in the mirror. In fact, they can’t look away. They see about themselves naturally what everyone else does—that they’re beautiful, adorable, and perfect just the way they are, and they don’t mind showing it.
As I consider the purity in young children, and my personal belief that they, of all people, know about accepting themselves unconditionally, and have built in radar that helps them hone in on what’s most important, I wonder how adults unlearn that natural instinct. Because we do.
Karen says she sees a change around the time her students turn eight. They become more concerned about what others think. Worldly woes, ever so slightly, start taking over, and her young dancers begin to lose that joyous sense of abandon and appreciation for who they are, and depend on others to tell them whom they “should” be.
Within the past few months, two close friends of mine have been diagnosed with cancer. Both are treatable, and beginning dicey journeys with a positive outlook. At the same time, I’ve seen them both alter the ways they are in the world.
They’ve always been kind, loving, energetic people. But now that their mortalities are on the line, I see more openness, a willingness to share and be even more engaged in life than before. Nothing produces a personal, authentic reaction like hearing the words, “You have cancer.”
These are people who will define, with the almost certain duress coming their ways, more clearly who they inherently are—as will those of us who love them.
In our laid-back summer days, the boy and I are doing more than just playing favorite video games and maintaining no schedule to speak of. I like to think we’re taking the time to excavate our own authenticities. With the rare luxury of time, we’re watching, learning, and discovering more fully who lives under this baggage that comes with growing up.
We can’t be four year olds again, and although serious illness is a chance we take just by being alive, there are other ways to dig deep and unearth the joyous life that is ours for the taking.
I intend to find it.