THE CHILDLIKE SENSE OF WONDER
I have a dear friend who is a young grandmother. Her granddaughter, Juliana, is six and like all children of that age or younger has a gift to give. Of course, her grandmother loves her unconditionally as most grandparents do. She sits on the floor and plays jacks with her. She takes her to zoos and museums and on picnics and to the ocean. She pushes her on the swings, settles her carefully on the bike with the training wheels and runs behind it, reads her bedtime stories, and, because this particular grandmother is a fine singer, she croons lullabies to her at night. She showers her with presents large and small.
But it is, always and everywhere, the child who gives the greater gift. It’s Wordsworth who describes the children who come to us as “trailing clouds of glory.” By that I think he means they bring memories from the place where they have been, memories of God’s Grace, or at least an intimation of otherworldliness. Children reacquaint us with purity, a shining innocence, and an insatiable curiosity. We see these qualities in babies, don’t we? We see them in the wide eyed way they look at the strange new world they’ve been thrust into. We see them in the way they grasp our finger or examine their toes.
But they do more than define purity and innocence and wonder for those of us who have lost touch with the meaning of those words. They teach us once more what it means to be alive in the world. It’s their gift to us. We must be able to recognize their gift, be open to accepting it, and happy to acknowledge and celebrate it. Theirs is the gift of wonder, the childlike sense of wonder. It is the surprise and delight in experiencing the world for the first time, the joy of discovery, the way of seeing things strange.
The clouds they see build castles in the air, and form elephants, and ships. For them, there really is a man in the moon. Give a child two cook pots and he or she has the controls of a locomotive or space ship. Two clothespins stuck together make an airplane. An anthill fascinates for hours. Theirs is a world where animals can talk, a world of knights and goblins, dragons and witches, and frogs that turn into princes.
As the years go by their ability to offer this gift sadly diminishes. By the time they are nine or ten it is almost gone. Neither they nor we are quite aware of its passing.
Ahh, but at three, and four, five, and six they are generous beyond measure. Those of us who are parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts or older brothers and sisters, or friends or neighbors of little children, are truly blessed. But only if we recognize their gift of childlike wonder and open our arms and our minds and hearts to receive it.
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