“The soul is healed by being with children.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
For Teddy, my grandson ~ (And for all my students, old and young) ~
Perhaps my favorite song to sing in chapel at St. Mary’s is “The Servant Song” – I will teach it to you soon, Teddy, one afternoon on a walk, and we can sing it together as loud as we want and as many times as we like. Here is my favorite stanza – it makes me think of you, every time:
“We are pilgrims on the journey / We are brothers on the road / We are here to help each other / Walk the mile and bear the load.”
We are created to walk alongside one another, pilgrims on this grandest of journeys. How kind of God to put us here together! Of all the billions of folk who have come and gone, you and I get to walk along together, and this is such a very fine thing, it almost takes my breath away.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about being here, my dear(s), is that you are not alone here. Teddy, you already know this, deep in your bones. That’s why you want your mama to sit beside you when you play in your pirate tent, and why you stand by your daddy in the yard when you both rake the leaves.
Try to remember this, for it is a very precious gift – you are not alone. I’m so glad to be one of the gentle folk walking alongside you in this life.
It’s important to have someone older to walk along with, to protect you a bit and teach you a few things, to read all the books and to keep you away from the fire.
But perhaps the converse is truer, if there is such a thing. It’s more important to have someone younger to walk with, too, someone to remind us that rocks and sticks are not only important but beautiful, and that you can stand again after falling, even if you only have one person to help you back up. (Sometimes there is more than one person to help you back up, and that’s one of the loveliest of experiences in this life.)
Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
Teddy (and students, sweet girls) – I hope you will not grow too weary in your tutelage of me, for I have so much to learn. Please know I’m listening, even when I seem sleepy.
But there are a few things I want to tell you, some differences between you and me, the young and the old. I think they are true, for the most part.
When we are young, we explore ~ When we are old, we reflect.
So go and explore everything, and sing very loudly and kick over all the rocks you find so you can see what’s just underneath the surface. Play hard in your tree house and squeal loud when you go down the slide. And I’ll bring a pencil and write it all down so we won’t forget.
Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I think he’s right.
When we are young, we seek justice ~ We we are old, we seek mercy.
You haven’t really started playing with other kids at the playground yet, but it’s coming, fast.
People will tell you it’s a jungle out there (on the playground and beyond), and there’s truth in that, the ever-present Push-Come-to-Shoveness of living among other people. But there is a bigger truth ~ the knowledge that what we the people really want is equity. We want what is fair for us and ours. And when we are not treated fairly, we want justice, and we want it now. When we grow impatient for it, we start to hit and throw stones.
Justice is a good thing, but like all things, there’s an ugly underbelly to it. It can be cruel and heartless, and left untreated and unchecked, what is cruel and heartless can become a monster.
When you are older, you will realize how you’ve been wounded, but you will also realize how you have wounded. A wise man, which you will be, will then start to see the beauty in mercy. The luckiest of us have nice balance of justice and mercy in our lives. When you find yourself stuck between the hardness of justice and the softness of mercy, choose mercy. Always choose mercy.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” I think he’s right.
When we are young, we grow prickly ~ When we are old, we grow soft.
The young will often fight and choose to alienate on principle, for they are out to save the world. And that’s good, because the world could use some saving. Passion is a fine, fine thing, for what is the purpose of fire, if not to burn? But the old know the world can also be saved in small chunks with a little softness, one kindness at a time, one gentleness at a time, loving one broken person at a time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “For age is opportunity no less / Than youth itself, though in another dress…” I think he’s right.
When we are young, we cry ~ When we are old, we weep.
“I will weep when you are weeping / When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you / I will share your joy and sorrow / Till we’ve seen this journey through,” we servants sing. I hope we mean it; I think we do.
The young cry, for there are many losses here. But the young also know how to giggle, for there is far more delight, if one will just open his eyes and take a look (your remarkable stick collection is an excellent example of this). I find such beauty in my students’ art and their wordy journals bring me great delight. And good music, and good food, and the moon and the stars, and cold water, oh, it seems there is endless beauty! “Oh earth, you are too wonderful for anyone to realize you,” Thornton Wilder was able to pen.
So keep your young eyes wide open, Teddy. There is also so much to laugh about, so much joy here!
We older folks giggle less perhaps – we have tasted the deep bitterness of loss, we know its sting. But when we are old, we also know how to laugh, deep and long and soulfully, the kind of laughter that lasts a while, the kind one remembers. Your grandfather and I laugh like that. Your great-grandmother Nanny and I laugh like that. I would bequeath that to you if I could, but I think you will simply learn it by observing – you are a very good watcher.
Watch your mother and father the most – they are experts at this.
Here is a very good poem. I think you will like it.
The Little Boy and the Old Man
by Shel Silverstein
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.
The old have the young to hold hands with, and to climb into tents with, and to read with, and to nap with, and to giggle with. It is actually the best of times, or can be.
Teddy – I just want you to know, and never forget – as long as I have it to give, I will always give my attention to you. And all my love. My soul has been healed by you, just as Mr. Dostoevsky said.
I Love You ~ Mimi