To be a child again

We drove down to the swamp last night after work to enjoy the sunset. Dean brought his gold pan, we all brought beers, skipped stones, spun yarns. Shay got excited when he found a rowing boat up the beach. “I guess they don’t have dinghy’s in Timaru” I joked. Tom, Kieran, Dean, and Tony laughed loudly at that, yet another joke at Shay’s expense. Maybe I’m the villain in Shay’s story, I don’t imagine I make his life better.

They’re nearly all living paycheque to paycheque . Shay, of course, he’s from Timaru, and 19, the deck was stacked against him from the jump. Tony and Joey, sure, they’re alcoholics. But Kieran? He always seemed sensible, yet apparently he almost had to ask for an advance last week. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does.

This evening I was taken by surprise, yet again, as I sat beside Lake Brunner with a book. After a long and hot day of tree planting, out of nowhere welled up a profound sadness, a feeling of mourning. When did my childhood end? When will I see something totally new again? I was swallowed, not for the first time, by a feeling of wanting desperately to be a stranger in a strange land.

The sight of six children wading, shivering, out into the waters of Lake Brunner, swimming now, at the diving platform now, yelling and encouraging, roleplaying, their cries of joy echoing across the calm water – has reduced me to tears. Esther won’t jump from the platform, she’s scared. When did I learn to swim? What was that like? I yearn for the wonder that comes to children so readily, but slips further from me. One of the boys, name unknown, is desperately keen for Bethany to “come see how deep it is” where he’s floating, only a couple of feet from where she is standing. He’s found more wonder in the two feet between himself and Bethany than I’ve found in the two days just gone.

We worry about children, but we would be wiser to worry about ourselves, the children have it mostly figured out. But our worry makes sense, we’re afraid they’ll turn out like us. It seems like only yesterday I was a child and it seems that was an impossibly long time ago too. I hope I can be a child tomorrow.

What would I say to a younger me? If I could go back and have my own attention for just a moment, what advice would I want to give? And would that advice be true? Would it reflect the way I live? Or would these things ring hollow?