A New Unity Sunday Gathering
As we gather together today, people of all ages
Let us learn from one another
We have much to share
The youngest amongst us learn the ways of the world from their elders
The oldest share their long perspectives and hard-earned wisdom with their juniors
The young remind their elders of the fresh outlooks and unreasonable sense of hope that is always needed to change things for the better
The youngest amongst us also have much to teach. The world can be filled with wonder, life can be engaged with open senses and open hearts
Let the light of this flame enter our eyes and open our hearts to the wisdom of all the generations.
Just Children, by Adam Zagajewski
[Pronounced a-DOHM za-ga-YEV-skee]
It was just children playing in the sand
(accompanied by the narcotic scent
of blooming lindens, don't forget),
just children, but after all
the devil, and the minor gods,
and even forgotten politicians,
who'd broken all their promises,
were also there and watched them
with unending rapture.
Who wouldn't want to be a child
Message, by Andy Pakula
Long, long, ago, there was a young girl called Lisbet. She lived with her mother and father and her two older brothers. As the youngest, Lisbet felt like she was the baby in the family - and indeed - her parents and brothers tended to treat her that way.
Lisbet watched as her brothers swam across streams, ran across fields, and climbed trees. They were kind to her and let her follow along, but Lisbet could never quite keep up.
At home, she struggled when the family talked together. There was talk of a world she didn’t understand and school and girlfriends and so much more that was foreign to her.
At one family dinner, Lisbet grew so frustrated that she threw her food on the floor and stormed off crying. She was inconsolable. Her parents tried to calm her. Her brothers tried. Nothing would work. Lisbet just screamed “I want to be older.” Finally, she cried herself to sleep and her parents and brothers hoped that she would have forgotten all this silliness the next day.
When Lisbet awoke the next morning, she felt her feet were cold. She tried to pull the up under the warm blankets, but they stayed cold. When she woke up enough to think clearly, she looked down at her cold feet. What she saw shocked her. Her legs had become too long to fit under the blanket. Her little girl’s body was gone. In its place was a woman’s body. Lisbet leapt out of bed - knocking over her toys and a lamp as her long arms reached much further than she had imagined. She was tall. She had her wish. She was grown up.
Her sleeping gown barely fit over her, so she wrapped herself in blankets, opened the door to her room and called out “momma”, “poppa.” An unfamiliar voice came from her mouth. Her parents came running, but it wasn’t with the joy to see their baby, but with confusion and some fear at seeing a strange woman in the house. Reacting to the shock in their faces, she said “it’s me. It’s Lisbet.” It took hours for everyone to calm down and begin to accept what had happened.
As the weeks went by, Lisbet began to adjust to her new self. Her parents sat her down and talked to her about life. She was too old to play now. Too old to go to school. She would need to find a job and move on with her own life.
Lisbet found a job caring for young children - after all, she thought - she understood them well. It was time for her first day at work.
She watched the children with fascination as they laughed and cried with all their hearts. She noticed as they saw wonder in everything and a deep sadness came over her for all she had left behind. The end of work could not come soon enough and Lisbet walked home in tears… tears that her parents - only a few years older than she - could not calm. She asked to be left alone and she lay down on her bed weeping without stop.
When she awoke, it was the morning of the next day. She thought with regret and sadness about her new life. When she rose from bed, she fell to the floor. Her legs were so short. The clothes she had fallen asleep in were enormous.
Lisbet was back.
When I was a child, I wanted very badly to grow up. I wanted a briefcase like my dad had. I wanted to be tall and to be allowed to cross the street by myself.
You probably had some feelings like this yourself. Being young can feel like being a prisoner. You’re not allowed to do anything or go anywhere without permission. The grown-ups, on the other hand, go where they want, stay up as late as they want, watch whatever they want on the telly, eat or refuse to eat what and when they want.
And they have abilities that seem like superpowers to a child. They can run so fast, reach so high, and are so astoundingly strong. They know things too. They can work the oven, cook food, make phone calls, and read anything at all without much stumbling.
I - as you probably did - wanted to get this childhood thing over with and be like these super beings that controlled my life.
It was only later - after I had made that big transition from child to grown-up, that I realised what I had as a child and what I lost as an adult.
I do think we grown-ups can idealise what it is to be a child. Children do not spend all their time laughing, feeling awe, learning, loving the world, and mastering new skills.
Even for children who have wonderful childhoods with loving, nurturing, parents, childhood is far from bliss. There is frustration, lots of crying, being compelled to learn things you don’t want to learn, like using a toilet and eating politely.
And yet, there is much that most of us lose as we grow up.
The funny thing is that much of it is exactly what we hope to change in our adult lives.
There is mindfulness - being in the moment. Children excel at this skill that spiritual people practice for years to cultivate.
Children are - unless they are traumatised - openhearted. As adults, we learn to keep our emotions to ourselves. We learn to lock up our hearts so that no one can hurt us and - if we are hurt - no one will see. Children do not keep a stiff upper lip. They let it rip - laughter or tears - it’s full on.
Children find the world fascinating. Grown-ups become jaded. A child might be awestruck by something as simple as a beetle or a leaf. A grown up yawns at such small things. It takes something more like a rocket or a supernova to generate the same level of wonder.
Children imagine the impossible. Why shouldn’t I be able to fly? Why can’t I be president of the world? Grown-ups worry about whether or not it will be possible to find a place to park.
And little children aren’t self-conscious. They’re not worried that they’re too fat, too thin, too tall, or too short. What’s wrong with running around naked? “I got nothing to hide” is how a child interacts. Needless to say, grown-ups tend to be quite different.
So, we have these things mastered when we’re children and then we lose them. Are children better? Not so fast. What that nostalgic take misses is both that childhood is hard and that we would never survive as children in adult bodies. Some seriousness is required. Some modesty is necessary. Some self-consciousness is actually useful. And if we were in wonder all the time, not only could we not hold a job, getting down the street would be a massive challenge!
We want - then - not to get back to where we were. We want to be who we are with a bit more of the best of who we were.
And here’s the good news. We haven’t lost that. It hasn’t been left behind. It’s here with us, hidden. We can work to let go of fear and our hearts will open again. We can learn to put aside worry about the future and past and be fully present in the moment. We can put aside the cynicism that makes us so insensitive to wonder and the simple things can once again delight us. And letting go of negativity borne of self-protection can allow us once again to hope - to once again see great possibility in ourselves and from the world around us.
Now that you are big enough to do all the grown-up things, it is not the time to cry yourself to sleep for what you have lost. It is a time to let go of the barriers that keep you from being what you want to be and to reclaim what you already are.