Archive for October, 2009

Bringing out our inner children, for better or for worse

October 11, 2009

A friend’s son was killed last month in Washington, D.C.

Reading his obituary, navigating the list of his accomplishments, awards and successes, the line that resonated most with me was: “He was a rambunctious toddler, known to run down the street in just a diaper.” It made me smile. I chuckled as I pictured a spirited, independent bundle of life, tearing down the road with mortified adults trundling after him.

The other morning, I dropped my son, Malik, off at the bus stop. A young girl, somebody’s daughter, sat on the sidewalk smoking, surreptitiously, a cigarette.

I enquired rhetorically of my son: “Is that little girl smoking?” I had seen quite clearly the curly, acrid, plume of fume.

“Yep. Bye, mom. Love you.” He dashed from the car, secretly hoping his mother wouldn’t say anything but knowing in his heart I would.

Bidding him farewell I drove forward stopping beside the “little puffing princess,” and enquired: “What grade are you in?”

She lifted her head, turned toward me, hesitated, then, finally lifting her eyes, she replied: “Seventh.”

“Why are you smoking?” I questioned. “It will kill you.”

“I know,” she resolutely replied.

“You need to stop.” I told her.

As I maneuvered my car to return home, something about our brief interaction yanked at my heart. There was a sadness, resignation and futility dancing devilishly in her demeanor and I found myself needing this child to know I cared about her; that my comments, or as she might see it, interference, were not merely to chastise her, but stemmed from love.

Traveling back now, I wound down my window. Malik, seeing this, lowered his head, smirking. “Oh, no, not again, mum!” I imagined him saying. A classmate standing next to him watched me, curiosity spreading across her face.

I pulled up next to the young girl telling her: “I say this because I care.” She stared at me incredulously.

“Smoking is so dangerous for you,” I admonished. “It will kill you.

“You need to stop,” I implored. She replied flatly: “I know.”

Driving away I wondered whether her insipid response referred to the fact that she knew she needed to stop, or that smoking would kill her.

The girl sitting on the sidewalk was obviously a physically mature teenager, but I plainly “saw” a little girl. I saw her inner child locked away in a dungeon. The dungeon that childhood has become in our competitive world, (and being driven ever more so by our crumbling economy), in which children must prematurely shed their childish proclivities so as to be able to compete, to attain worth, acceptance, and recognized success. I saw a little girl begging to be set free, to be seen, listened to, but who instead, in defiance, took up the fine art of smoking – a well-documented death-inducing device, a taker of lungs, liberty and life. All in an attempt to defy the restraints of this, our modern-day, hurry-and-grow-up living, and wrest back some control.

And it made me think of my friend’s son, Salim, running unrestrained down the street. And I remembered that I once knew a fearless girl whom, decades ago, overjoyed with the spirit of Christmas, opened everyone’s presents, then danced in celebration outside in the freezing wee hours, dressed in rubber boots and a nightie, with only the moon and stars for company. And I laughed out loud.

I have always believed we must hang onto our inner child, (those little girls and boys that live within us), for when we do we are more apt to let life lead us everywhere. It is with this inner child – our organic form, the “rough in the diamond” that we all inherently are – where we breathe our deepest, run our fastest and shine our brightest.

So, little puffing princess, (you know who you are), I see you. I see your inner child and I dare you to snuff out your cigarette and reclaim her. What does she love to do? Bring her back to life, liberation and love. I hope to see you there. I’ll be the one dancing in the dark in rubber boots.

This article originally appeared in the October, 2009 edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

What did you love to do as a child? What would you dare to do today, whatever your age, if your inner child were let loose?

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