Walking my kids to the park yesterday we passed by a young woman taking her dog to get her mail in the cul-de-sac by my house. The dog, still a puppy, is a “Labrabull”, a mix between a Labrador Retriever and an American Pit Bull Terrier. Fifty pounds of pure muscle, the dog goes where it wills, as fast as it likes, as it’s “master” flops around behind him like a kite on a string; a classic case of “who’s walking who?” I placed myself between my children and the dog. Although “Loki” seems harmless enough, what is a playful nip for the puppy could be facial stitches for my kids. Better safe than sorry. I suppose I could place my trust in the young lady to control her dog, but I’d sooner trust a zombie with my brains.
Arriving at the park the kids began to play. Maya chose to splash around in the enormous puddle submerging the playground equipment due to poor drainage. Timmy began playing in the pebbles that covers the playing area. (I don’t know why I bother taking them to the park when we have perfectly good puddles and pebbles at home.) I took a seat on a short cement wall near Timmy. I let my mind wander. “Aren’t we all technically half centaur? Why does Dora call herself an “explorer” when she exclusively travels through mapped territories? Are batteries prepaid electricity?” Timmy finished making a mound of pebbles and was calling it a present for me. I wasn’t interested. After all, I had a long day teaching, I just wanted to relax. “Why can’t this kid just play by himself for one minute!” I tried to convince myself. As he continued to try to get my attention I took my phone out of my pocket to thumb through Facebook for the 3rd time in twenty minutes. “Daddy!”. Check e-mail. “Daddy!”. Check text messages. “Daddy!” Put phone away still ignoring Timmy.
Finally I turn to him. “Yes, Timmy what do you want?” I said with patience. “I made you a present,” he told me with a big ol’ toothy grin on his face, completely unphased by my lack of attention. I walked over to the mound of pebbles and said, “Thank you so much Timmy.” “Open it!” he said excitedly. I moved the pebbles and found a twig. “Wow, thanks Timmy this is awesome”. I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could. “That’s not it Dad, open it!” I kept digging. I found a buried dandy-lion underneath. Again I said thank you with a feigned interest not understanding his message. “There’s life under there!” He said smiling from ear to ear!
It hit me that Timmy wanted nothing more than to connect with me. He didn’t know how, so he made something up. He extended his expression of love to me the only way he knew how, and he did it without hesitation for fear of judgement. I, however, was trapped in my cave of thought, mindless and meaningless, thinking only of myself and how others should treat me.
No big deal though, right? I disagree. I was no different than that young lady being pulled from one end of the street to the other by her dog. My mind, my ego, my cave was pulling me away from the beauty in front of me, putting on a show inside my head that I could not look away from. Becoming present while we are with other people is exactly what it means to leave the cave. Presence. Be where you are. Be with who you are with. Connect! In this world of ours it is far too easy to be lost and lonely even within a sea of people.
What if we could learn from a three year old? What if children know exactly what we are supposed to do in life, until we “teach” it out of them? What if we can learn to love and connect from children instead of dismissing their vital message as cute or endearing but misguided and naive? What if we are the ones who know nothing about the real world and children are the ones that know better? What if “growing up” means forgetting that essential message we all know as children, sealing the entrance to the cave?
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25)
All I know is I’m going to leave my phone at home the next time we are at the park.
I really need to get out of my cave.