Let Us Begin
On a mild evening recently, I stood in the cooling air holding my week-old child in my arms, and watched his tiny face relax to the touch of the breeze. For both of us, the moment was strangely powerful. I was amazed and privileged to witness this little person’s first twilight sensation — and to have helped him experience such a thing. What’s more, while observing him, and feeling the breeze on my face, I sensed an innocent wonder reawakening within me.
It might as well have been the first time I’d felt such a breeze. I was experiencing the world anew, because my child was. In that moment, he’d helped me bridge the distance between my blasé adult self and a much younger, less complicated version of me.
We all have an inner child whose freshness and awe can continue to renew and enliven us even as our bodies age. If it doesn’t, perhaps we’ve become numb to the best things in life.
Put another way, our inner child helps us plant our feet firmly in the mysterious abundance of each single day — at least we should hope it does, otherwise we may be missing out on something essential.
In his unaffected rural style, the Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote on this very subject more than two-hundred years ago:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
As I observe my infant son in these first wondrous weeks of his existence (also my first euphoric days of parenthood), each hour brings potent reminders of Wordsworth’s poetic truth. The Child is father of the Man.
How many of us can truly say that the sight of a rainbow awakens for us, like Wordsworth, the same indescribable elation it awoke in us as children? Though the vision itself remains the same, we see it with different eyes. Duller eyes, maybe.
For most grown-ups, this is a fact of life. But remember the magical glow of primary colors back in your youth? The joy of warm beach sand or prickly lawn grass under your toes? The breathtaking effect of fresh snow? Do the potent immediacy of these sensory marvels become so lost upon us that they have only the hollow sound of cliche when called to mind?
Why should our senses dim as we grow older? Why should we lose our childhood reflexes of wonder and awe?
Well … it simply happens, even for those who strive to stay alert, observant, open-hearted. It’s a fundamental problem in life. It comes with the territory of assuming adult responsibilities — and especially with leading high-paced and heavily scheduled modern existences. We become accustomed — and occasionally even indifferent — to the gifts each day brings.
Aging and amassing experience by the year, we grown-ups tend to believe ourselves well-practiced in living. While in truth our every moment is new, we feel we pretty much know what’s coming, and rarely is it something we haven’t seen before. This morning is a morning like most others. This breeze is a breeze, no big deal. In many ways, this nonchalance is demanded of us. We’re led to believe it’s what qualifies adulthood. We’re expected to know what to expect.
But my tiny newborn, still unpracticed in life, exemplifies the value of experiencing the world afresh, the value of being a beginner. And while it’s almost second-nature for grown-ups to regard inexperience as a detriment, to think of being a beginner as a condition to overcome quickly, my boy reminds me, his awe-inspired father, that every day is indeed something unprecedented — and therefore, whether I choose to admit it or not, I am always a beginner.
Another poet I admire, T.S. Eliot, put it another way in his “Four Quartets”:
There is, it seems to us,
at best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking valuation
Of all we have been…
The child is father of the man. In every moment, the pattern is new. My actual son and my inner child, both, bring me fully into the richly palpable world, reawakening me in the most mysterious but unmistakable way.
Suddenly I find myself absorbed more deeply in the unprecedented present, and if I have the innocence to be a little awe-struck, it’s a good thing. It turns out I don’t mind being a beginner at all.
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