Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Children and adults

Some time ago, just as I sat down on a train and looked out of the window, a thud beside me announced the arrival of a little girl who turned out to be seven years old. “Hello. Can I sit beside you? My name is Georgia.” So much for a previously planned peaceful, reflective journey!

The child was delightful. Our half-hour together was fascinating as one question followed another with the beautifully simple curiosity that is unique to the very young.

Knowing that Georgia’s mother was sitting on the seat behind, I suddenly realised, with deep regret, that my own enquiries could, these days, be misconstrued. “Where are you going? What are you going to do? Which are your favourite rides on the fairground?”

The absolutely normal questions that an adult puts to a small child, excited at the prospect of a family day out, are not always as innocent as they might seem. I rapidly altered my conversation and began to describe my own childhood experiences on the Ghost Train, but however much I continued to enjoy Georgia’s conversation, some of my own pleasure had disappeared.

The journey reminded me of an afternoon when I chatted with an elderly man who was passing the time before he could collect his grand-daughter from school. “I used to love to stand by the school playground and watch the children playing”, he said. “It gave me so much pleasure and gave meaning to my day. Now I can’t. I’m afraid that people will think that I’m up to something. I still collect my grand-daughter from school, but I go for a walk first and only approach the school when I know it is time for the children to come out. We don’t hang around….but something has gone from my life, something really precious.”

Certainly, children are to be loved and protected. Any normal person is horrified by the thought of their spontaneity and innocence being damaged in any way.

Yet those who would hurt children have also hurt those of us who love them. In order to ensure safety for the youngest and most vulnerable amongst us, so many adults have been obliged to step backwards and deny ourselves the opportunity of sharing in the joy of childhood for a few moments. Especially those of us who do not have children and who do not work with children are enriched by the freshness and novelty of their outlook. They somehow manage to bring newness into even the most mundane events. How many of us have found ourselves laughing at a comment made in all seriousness by a small child who has succeeded, in a few words, in turning the adult world upside-down?

May children everywhere be filled with freedom and joy...but may they also spread a little of their happiness around them in ever-increasing circles, surrounding those of us who might be bystanders, but who would also like to be participants in their wonder and celebration.

God bless,
Sr Janet