So there’s this table with household items for the taking, discards that have seen better days. But my two granddaughters disagree; they see a treasure trove. The girls insist on bringing home a curling iron with a broken plug-in, an ugly candlestick, a roll of tensor bandage, a well-worn snowman stuffy in Christmas decor, and a massive container of velcro curlers. I’m rolling my eyes — really, girls? Their ear-to-ear grins keep my mouth shut, lest I deflate their victorious spirits as they bring home the spoil.
I have a category for such things — junk. I also know exactly what each item is supposed to be used for. And I honestly did not think that my 8 1/2 and 7 year old granddaughters would know what to do with most of their treasures, let alone need them. Well, I was wrong.
On the drive home my assumptions were, well, thrown out the window with the kind of light-hearted ridicule only granddaughters can get away with. In the rear view mirror I saw the tensor bandage being strung from the car’s ceiling, held in place by — what else? — a curler! Then curlers were hurled onto it, sticking to the bandage, causing giggles and bursts of excitement. Look, Oma, we’re playing a game! Who would have thought velcro curlers and tensor bandage could generate so much fun and joy?
Clearly, young minds display a limitless curiosity, not to mention boundless energy to explore and invent, to engage and to create. My old adult-mind thinks it knows everything — well, on some days anyways. But my two girls refuse to think in boxes and rigid categories. Instead, they give their imagination free reign to discover new purposes for grown-ups’ discards in startlingly fun ways.
As the days rolled on, their energy-level sharply contrasting with mine, and their physical flexibility stretching my rickety, aching bones beyond their limits, the girls’ ability to see beyond the surface of things was ever so evident, to the point of creating their own humour. “It’s complicated to say complicated!” said the younger one in frustration. She stopped, realized what she just said, and the two burst out laughing, repeating the phrase over and over sprinkled with contagious giggles. Strangers and dogs drew their heartstrings, turning them into friends and objects of affection. Even the bumble bees who have made their home under our front step were greeted with vintage Franciscan-style affection and respect. The girls saw toys and friends and games where grown-ups see annoying bugs and caterpillars, dead sticks and branches, leaves and rocks, unapproachable strangers and dogs, useless string and ugly candlesticks, spoons and tensor bandage and, well, velcro curlers. Wow, to go through life like that all the time …
The world is a magnificent place, with places to explore and people to meet and things to discover, only limited by our own imagination. Who would want to curtail or even destroy such childlike trust, unbridled joy and freedom of spirit? Sadly, too many harmful events are suffered by too many children, equally deserving of the boundless trust and enthusiasm my dear girls exuded. No wonder Jesus favoured children and condemned those who harmed them: He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. … If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones (…), it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:2, 6) Childlike trust and wonder make it obvious that the kingdom of heaven is indeed a present reality, here and now. Because the kingdom of heaven is a quality of seeing and loving and engaging and cherishing and playing.
How do we as grown-ups foster an ongoing, childlike openness of vision and a vibrant imagination? Why do so many of us lose that capacity along the way? Not only children suffer harmful effects of the sins of others inflicted upon them; too many adults go through life never tasting fullness and wholeness, never trusting and loving, never coming to full bloom. Too many adults live under the burden of sins, their own or those of others — betrayal, abuse, abandonment, neglect, violence, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, persecution. There are kids, too young for the task, who are forced to look after parents, robbed of a carefree childhood. Other kids see and hear and feel things no child ever should, scarring their fragile spirits with a pain they don’t understand. Still others are on the run, with or without parents, dreaming–longing–deserving the safety and love my granddaughters take for granted. Such children have trouble seeing the fun and games in an ugly candlestick, tensor bandages and velcro curlers. I have come that you may have life, says Jesus, and have it in abundance. (John 10:10). When you’re 8 1/2 and 7 years old, and have been blessed with a safe home and a loving family, Jesus’ words are a no-brainer. But when the bruises of living cause permanent, gaping holes in our spirit, and build concrete walls of protection around our heart, Jesus’ words sound ludicrous and unattainable.
The week of my granddaughters’ visit saw our house turn into a war zone, with household items baptized into prized toys and games, and harmless garden bugs scurrying into hiding places. It saw quiet evenings turn into an exciting, sometime quarrelsome, competition over who’s first falling asleep — me every time, while Grandpa policed them until 11pm most nights. These little monkeys saw me drive a round-trip of 500km to take them half-way home where they fell into Dad’s loving arms with glee, not to forget their teacup Yorkie who came along to greet them.
The giggles, the twinkling eyes, the infectious curiosity and imagination have left the house; everything’s back into its place or cupboard, category and box. My body is in recovery mode, sleeping non-stop for nearly ten hours on the first night after their departure. My days are slowly resuming a regular routine, and I am returning to work. But the joyful witness of these amazing little people lingers in my heart and in the rooms of our home, their giggles still sounding off its walls.
The well-worn snowman stuffy stayed at our house, waiting for the girls’ return at Christmastime. Oh, the ugly candlestick? We adorned it with a candle, lit it in the dark at bedtime while saying thank you to God for the blessings of the day, including for the times we argued and managed to make up with one another. Their young eyes glowing in candlelight sang more hymns of praise than any words could capture.
Drawing from that twinkling glow in those young eyes, my heart prays for all, young and old, who deserve love and mercy, for all who are weighed down by pain and distress, for all whose life history has slammed shut doors of freedom and happiness, for all who long for the unbridled joy and freedom of spirit which my dear granddaughters live with such abandon and unselfconsciousness.
And the curling iron? Well, let’s put it this way. Certain things are simply much less versatile than bugs and caterpillars, tensor bandages and velcro curlers, better kept in their particular category of use. With all due respect to my lovely girls’ innovative ability to re-purpose junk, the curling iron with the broken plug-in magically disappeared, never to be found again.