Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

What if I Never Grow Up?

digitally doctored photoAside from the fact that all of you know already that this is a given rather than a question, I can still pose it rhetorically and ask it of all people in general. See, I think about this a fair amount, and not just because of my own level of maturity at any given time or in any given category. It’s simply a question we all get asked in one way or another at some point, or should jolly well ask ourselves, at the least.

This marvelous Möbius loop of inquiry and insistence begins the first time we are told, as children, that we need to Grow Up, and it can be applied to any number of circumstances. The irony that this mandate is almost invariably handed down to us by a person or persons barely older and more grown than ourselves is of course lost on all of the parties involved, because we’re all too inexperienced and naive and, conversely, too full of ourselves to understand it. The bigger kid tells the littler kid to Grow Up mainly because the elder wants something that the younger has or has simply lost patience with her.

It doesn’t change. When we’re older, the toys and privileges may have changed to different brands of money and power, but as long as we think someone else has more of whichever kind we desire than we do, we’re just as inclined in adulthood to nit-pick at that someone for his supposedly lower maturity levels both as cover for our covetousness and in shallow hopes of shaming him into being more generous than we are ourselves. The failure of this silly system doesn’t change either, but it doesn’t stop the less magnanimous and less mature from nagging at those who are more so, no matter the age or the occasion.

There are perfectly good reasons to wish anybody, including ourselves, would think and act with maturity and keen sense and the wisdom of experience. Those things tend to lead to our being more level-headed in emergencies, more practical in the everyday, and more inclined to share those traits and all sorts of other things with other people–and that leads to better community. Who knows, even World Peace.

But isn’t it grand, all the same, to forever retain a large enough pinch of immaturity and, if not childishness, then at least the ability to be childlike, that we can still look at the wide world with the awe and wonder it requires. We should hang on, with youthful enthusiasm and gleeful tenaciousness, to innocence and hope, to curiosity and rambunctiousness, to unalloyed silliness whenever the moment permits. Maybe we should even be willing to get down there with the actual kids and roll around in the grass once in a while without batting an eye over how dirty it’ll get us or whether it might make our old joints sore tomorrow. If we can’t still do somersaults, then we’d better find other ways to regain and retain our not at all grown up point of view, because the world, especially while it’s still short of outright Peace, can really use a healthy splash of the ridiculous now and again.