“And above all watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places… and those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ Roald Dahl
As I wrote a few days ago, our two older children graduated from college last Saturday. It was of course a day that defined their future and as the ceremony started and the University president began to speak, I found myself feeling emotional and nostalgic. As the speakers words wafted out across the sizable crowd my eyes grew misty and I found myself having a parade of memories – mental snap shots floated across my mind’s eye: bringing them home from the hospital as newborns, visits from the tooth fairy, building indoor forts made of couch cushions, teaching them how to drive, and a few of the tough love moments required to keep them both on the straight and narrow.
As the speaker did what speaker’s do and my mental highlight reel ran there was suddenly an urgent commotion in the seats about 10 rows above us. The whole stadium grew quiet as a group of people began to shout loudly and bustle furtively against something we couldn’t see. The entire venue grew momentarily quiet and you could hear the crowd as a whole take a collective breath in as we braced for something more. Security guards streamed up the stairway next to us and the shouting and commotion continued.
On my left side, as this was occurring, sat 8 year old Ajay. Our sweet little toothless curmudgeon who we had forced into dress pants and a fancy sweater less than an hour before this. He had asked me a million questions about what exactly a graduation ceremony was, and he understood enough to know that what was currently happening up above us was not supposed to. He buried his head in my lap, pulled my arms around him and these words tumbled out: ‘Block for me Mommy…’ words that just made everything else that was going on around me stop. My attention immediately went from the macro of the yelling above us, to the micro of the pounding of his little boy heart. I hugged him close and assured him that whatever was happening above us, that I had him covered.
While he hunkered down, I looked up and to my right- where the commotion was happening. It took only a moment to understand what was occurring. From within the throng of people I could clearly see someone who was on their knees, shoulders heaving, feverishly performing chest compressions on an individual that lay eerily still in the aisle.
I reassured Ajay that all of the noise was just because someone had gotten very sick up above us. It took a few more minutes of convincing to make him feel assured that there was no armed assailant that he needed to hide from.
As things settled down and paramedics disappeared out of the stadium with their patient Ajay settled down too- but he remained snuggled in close for the remainder of the long ceremony. I tried my best to listen to the commencement address, but my mind was spinning. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that someday at a graduation ceremony in the future when it is time to let the mental highlight reel of Ajay’s life play, just as I had been doing for his brother and sister when the commotion began, how very different that highlight reel is likely to look. Given his ‘block for me’ comment, it was clear that his ascent out of childhood had begun far sooner than his sibling’s had.
There were thousands of people in that stadium and we all witnessed the same thing. It was clear from the post event discussions we shared with those around us that we were all on the same unfortunate page. We know that there is a new reality in town, and whether we like it or not, it is a reality that belongs to all of us- young and old. That our young one had the reaction that he did is heartbreaking on one hand, but heart warming on the other. I don’t love the fact that when he witnessed a public commotion occurring his first thought was to duck for cover, but within his ‘block for me mommy’ statement resides the fact that he trusts that if danger is near he can depend on the people he loves to try and protect him in whatever way we can. There is a strange kind of confidence to that, and one I am glad he possesses.
I know there are probably readers out there who are of the mind that it is best to shield children from world events and news stories that cause upset, but that has never been our way- not with any of our three children. We would rather teach them to look at reality head on- and to choose who they want to be in the face of it. This chance to choose our way is a God-given superpower – and we treat it as nothing less.
On Saturday, as the ceremony continued on I did have a hard time concentrating. My mind was swirling with an odd mix of concern for the one who had left on a stretcher and worry about world events- a little picture/big picture hodgepodge of unsettling thoughts. But by the time our two children’s monikers were announced overhead, I was 100% fully present in the moment- and when their names were read, I hooted and hollered so much that Ajay once again hit the deck- burying his head in my lap- but this time it was only because he was embarrassed to be sitting next to me.
So yes, perhaps his ascent out of childhood has begun sooner than we would have liked, but within this fact remains the truth that he still embodies enough innocence to whole heartedly believe that a man in a bright red suit who flies on a sleigh powered by magic reindeer will visit him in a few weeks, and he has somehow succeeded in juxtaposing this belief against the reality that when you hear a public commotion, before you do anything else, you first take cover. There is something powerful, and resilient, and hopeful about the fact that these two mutually exclusive realities are both alive and well within him