Aren’t children amazing, as they experience their world with awe and wonder at every turn. What if we, too, could think like a youngster again?
We had four precious houseguests, recently, ages newborn to 5 years, and their parents, who include my niece Julia (Michael) and nephew Jeffrey (Jessica). Our neighborhood was radiant with autumn color and the air was crisp. I had such fun viewing a sunny Saturday through the eyes of little ones.
The following are a few pointers I picked up from these junior naturalists.
• Look up. See the deep blue color of an October sky. Are those horses galloping across it, masquerading as clouds?
• Look down. Pick up one leaf of each color you see. And if a little creature that looks like a ladybug crawls up your hand, share this remarkable good fortune with your mother!
• Really look at everything you see. Then touch it. Climb on it. Squish it. (But don’t put it in your mouth.)
• Ask “why?” a lot. Why is this leaf orange and that one still green? Where’s that butterfly going? Why?
• Care about everything you see. Where will the bunny rabbits sleep when snow comes?
• Listen. Hear the geese honking from their big V in the sky.
• Go outside before bedtime and look up. Marvel at the stars and moon. Find Orion’s belt, because he lost it.
• Go to sleep pondering the day’s discoveries. Sleep well. Nature’s Great Big Plan has you covered.
In The Sense of Wonder, naturalist/author Rachel Carson wrote, “Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression. For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
Another way is to view it in the company of children. And for me, on this sunny fall day, the children are the natural wonders.
It doesn’t seem long ago since I was exploring the world with Julia and Jeffrey, when they were tots. I was their adoring teenager aunt, still footloose and free of adult cares. Today, I see glimmers and twinkles of their childhood faces surfacing in the faces of their own kids – here, then gone, then back again – like dappled sunlight at play on a lake. It’s something I can’t explain to Julia and Jeff, so I don’t try. I tuck that treasure into my heart and consider the mysteries of genetics. I know my late sister Linda would know just what I mean, if she were here.
And I yearn for her to be here. I want her to see what extraordinary parents her children and their spouses have become, and to breathe in the sweet-smelling, downy-soft hair of her two granddaughters and two grandsons.
I ponder the way some lives intersect, only for a moment, like the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. Linda shared a moment in time with granddaughter Michelle Naomi, before she slipped from this earth. I recall another overlap, in 1975, when we gained newly born Julia, but lost my Grandpa Evans, within a space of months.
It happens that way so often, in families, doesn’t it? And those of us standing in the middle of time can’t adequately describe the people who came before us to the people who follow. We desperately want to, because we love the people on both sides of our time continuum so much. The disconnection of one group from the other feels surreal.
My 93-year-old mother Naomi met the tiniest new member of our family, newborn Simon Jeffrey, on this same Saturday. I watched her face fill with that familiar sense of wonder as she took him in her arms, still wholly confident in her maternal skills and fully aware of a miracle when she sees one. My mother sleeps better, at night, than anyone I know. She always has. She knows the Great Big Plan has her covered. But I know she, too, was yearning for Linda to share this moment. She would gladly trade places with her daughter if she could.
We were all missing Linda especially much, that day, but none of us said it out loud. I suppose we didn’t want to spill sadness into this magical day that felt as fresh and sparkling as raindrops on a spiderweb.
I consider how oblivious I was, as a child, to the losses and problems carried in the hearts of adults who loved me. I’m so thankful they allowed me just to be a child. They didn’t burden me with their cares or rob me of the sense of wonder that is every child’s birthright. I’m certain this has helped me to cope better, as an adult, with my own losses and problems.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have any sense of wonder, at all, had I grown up in a different kind of home, perhaps one where I went to sleep each night fearing a drive-by shooting rather than pondering ladybugs. How well-equipped would I be to cope with hardship then?
Fall color will fade to gloom, soon, as November rolls over the season like a tank. Limp heaps of rotting brown will replace splendor. Because we have no choice, we’ll endure this murderous stalker. I’ll grumble about the cold weather and act like a grouchy adult. For awhile.
Then something wonderful will happen. One morning I’ll awaken to the winter’s first snowfall and my heart will turn giddy as a child’s.
The earth belongs to the living. Nature is our constant companion, quite surly one moment, resplendent the next, but always there. It never leaves us, as loved ones sometimes must. Someday, I will leave it, in search of higher ground. But not today.
All of the people I’ve loved, and who’ve loved me, are inside me. They urge me to seize the day while the earth is still mine to cherish.
Strangely, the distance between those loved ones who’ve passed and the natural beauty of this world diminishes as I age. I see my dad in the beating wings of hummingbirds; hear my sister’s voice in the chatter of wrens; find my grandma in the faces of forget-me-nots and pansies.
Love takes many forms, but has one Author.