July 17th, 2012Becoming Like Little Childrenby Joseph Pearce
Our annual sojourn with my wife's family in southern California is proving something of a challenge. For most of the time, most of us have been sick. Our children, proving more resilient and recovering sooner than their relatively fragile parents, have the family on a demanding boot camp regimen of beach and playground. After two essentially sleepless nights, such normal behaviour on the part of my children strikes me as particularly brutal. I drag myself to the beach much as a reluctant schoolboy drags himself to school, more from an obstinate sense of duty than any inherent desire for sand or surf. And yet, even in the spiritual murk of such fuzzy-headedness, I was gifted two days ago with an epiphanous moment.
Watching my wife and children build sand castles, those temples to the gods of Mutability which only exist in order to be washed away by the tides of Time, my eyes strayed to the family group about ten yards from us who were similarly employed. The group consisted of four children aged between around ten and two, the youngest of whom was as cute as only two-year-old girls can be. Only one parent was present and what a stark and even shocking contrast he presented in the midst of the innocence of the children. He was a huge Hispanic, tattooed from head-to-toe with gangland insignia. His body was pierced in numerous places and I couldn't help wondering the depths to which his life had sunk. Yet, here he was, as happy as the children who surrounded him, all of whom were sharing in the same labour of love.
As I write these lines, images of Wilde's Selfish Giant intrude upon my imagination but, at the time, I was simply struck by the childlike simplicity with which the gangster was playing with the children. It struck me that the true power of children resides in the way in which they civilize their parents. They teach us about obedience to duty, about the carrying of crosses, about giving ourselves for others but, most important of all, they teach us how to become like little children - much as the little children in Wilde's story teach the Selfish Giant the secret of happiness. The Hispanic gangster was learning this invaluable lesson from the children with whom he was playing. I was learning the same invaluable lesson from the Hispanic man himself. I am grateful to him, though I did not tell him so. I'm sure that he would not have understood even if I had tried. Instead I have expressed my gratitude in this tribute to him that he'll never read.
He does not need my praise.
I'm sure he needs my prayers, which he has, but no more than I need his.
Thankfully I have others to pray for me. Such is the love that makes the world go round.