Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life Unbuckled.

She walks into my classroom almost every day, short hair bobbing, a half-eaten cornetto in her hand. She comes to 'hang out', a child with an adult. She talks of this and that as I listen, bemused. But she goes back to her question ever so often. "Ma'am, what's it like being an adult? Is it fun? Do you like it?" Each time she asks me, I have to consider her question carefully. When I do answer, I'm surprised at the number of 'ifs' my answers have. She must think happiness as an adult is such a conditional prospect.

Maybe I am just ill-prepared to answer her. Sometimes, when she asks me, my first reaction is surprise at being asked. It feels like just yesterday, I was her. I was a little girl too, chock full of carefree thoughts, uncertain about life but strong, armed as I was with nothing but a few fairytales. Will she too grow up and be disillusioned? Will life's experiences huff and puff and blow down the castles that housed all her beliefs? Will she learn that those who love her the most can hurt her the worst? Will she break her heart, and heal it, and still trust, still look up with shining eyes at all the possibilities that are before her? Will she be plagued by self-doubt, quailing at the prospect of having to make decisions that shape her future? Will she move from sadness to happiness to sadness, an endless cycle, and struggle to stop and settle so that peace can walk in and take root? Will she look at her parents and realize with sadness that she has moved beyond their world, and where she goes, they will not follow? Will she be utterly terrified to look back and see the proof of their mortality in the bends of their back and the lines on their faces? Will she learn how many nights money will keep her awake, this paper backbone that seems to hold up the planet? Will she stand alone, in a strange country, surrounded by the new and the unfamiliar, and still feel safe, at home, because she knows she belongs to the whole world, and it to her? Will she discover the depth of her own compassion, the shallowness of her own thoughts, the futility of her pride? ...And if she felt all this, lived through all this, would she be lucky or unlucky?

Maybe what I should tell her is that you never stop growing up. Only the lessons change, the field expands, the people come and go, varying in their intensity, in their capacities to surprise, disappoint, to love and hate. But she won't understand. She cannot yet. And when I realize that, I have this overwhelming urge to protect her, to shield her from all the pain that will come. I see myself in her again, strongly this time, and I want to whisk her away, the little girl that was me, to some magical place, perhaps Blyton's Faraway Tree, so that she/I can move from one land of joy to another, our fairytale castles intact. Because, though people insist that life, with all its highs and lows, is a great blessing, it can also be tiring, demanding, always 'on'.

A TV show told me once that it takes courage to keep moving, and sometimes, it takes courage to stand still. Life itself is an exercise in courage... She has courage, this little one who can think for herself, as she nods at whatever answer I give her, barely understanding but satisfied that when she grows up, like she thinks I have, she'll know too. I'm laughing at that. Little girl, you have no idea. Just buckle up and be unprepared.

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