The image of a young boy playing with a boxed toy on the floor of the local Walmart has ingrained itself in my memory over the past few hours, and I think I'm starting to understand that this memory represents much more than what meets the eye.
"Summer feels different," I said to my best friend, over a Starbucks coffee on Tuesday afternoon. There is this wide expanse of time stretching before us, but we fill it with books and papers and classes and all the other responsibilities that are foreign to us...what happened to the lazy summer days I remember? The ones where my greatest concern was whether or not I would land the double back flip I'd been working on my friend's trampoline? Or the grass stains that didn't want to come off my soccer socks? It was not nostalgia forcing its way into my mind but a difference. My best friend had jokingly said in her text, "Let the frolicking begin," but when did life deem necessary two girls drinking coffee in the middle of the afternoon, conversing over the past year's pains as tears stung our eyes in empathy, and then in sympathy? Was this change from the frolicking of our youth good, or was it robbing us of something just beyond our reach?
I watched the boy adamantly. He used his senses in tandem, touching the shiny truck, shaking the box by his ear, looking so fervently at the twist ties that held it in. Sitting on the floor, he looked up at people passing by. They smiled down, perhaps at his innocence or his lack of social awareness. The "good old days" when things were easy and the wind blew the breeze and not the torrential rains. The boy turned the box over in his hands, and in my peripheral I saw my mother turning a box of strawberries over in hers, psycho-analysis. What changes between childhood and adulthood?
Well, for one, time. I never have enough of it these days. So much vies for attention that nothing ever gets it fully. The boy, sitting on the dirty floor, could see nothing else but the toy. I wondered what it would be like to have that focus again, that determination. And I do, at times, only at times.
Yet, despite never having enough time, I have too much in the wrong ways. Mondays and Thursdays are too far apart. They are altogether too far apart.
Because I have to wait til Thursday to talk to you, or two weeks to see them, or a year to cross the Atlantic and be with the generations of my blood. There are too many days in a week, and not enough hours in a day, and the tension we feel in between is suffocating.
But. The boy, something was changing in his demeanor. His patience turned to listlessness. His eyes from intrigue to intensity. And with his next action, my reverie was broken...
"Mommmm," he called, looking with longing beyond my field of vision. My heart rose with the inflection of his small voice. She came by, her cart full of corn, and reached out to touch the little hand of her precious boy. He climbed happily from the floor and walked away from the abandoned toy.
I stood, stunned. How preoccupied the boy had been and with one word, he was off the floor. He walked in hand with someone who offered something back, never stopped to look back. Maybe his short attention span worked to his advantage, or maybe at his young age, he already grasped something adults often forget. He felt the difference, in the changing of textures, in the softness, and suddenly some decisions seemed simplified. Suddenly I understood why God puts things in boxes and ties them down with string. If He didn't, maybe we would never call out for what we actually desire. Maybe we would sit, on the dirty floor, playing with a toy that offers nothing. Maybe sometimes our adult troubles involve us doing this anyway, ignoring the ties, ignoring the people who have walked into our lives because we are afraid of the pain when the hand turns rough, afraid of no one answering the call, afraid of missing and of desire we can't control.
So it seems the bridge between childhood and adulthood isn't so far, if we know where our help comes from, if we value the truly valuable, if we exchange the fear that we have gained from years of broken hearts and failure with the faith of a child.
We, like the boy, have small voices.
And maybe, just maybe, the ones we love are listening.