Do you remember back when you were nine years old? How the prospect of turning 10 stood like a skyscraper, a monumental achievement, a towering number in two digits? You — yes, you — transformed into something larger, more important, closer to grown-upness?
For small children, imagination and reality exist on the same level. When you play a soldier, you turn into one. When you put on your Superman outfit, the fake muscles become real, and your thoughts take flight. A princess costume creates enchantment and elegance.
The magic mirror confirms, “You are the fairest of them all.”
Playing these parts is unselfconscious, the pleasure joyous, the movements spontaneous. Summers seem endless, and the friends of every day never imagine a future without you.
Mom and dad demonstrate how to do things, read stories leading you to master the skill yourself, and are lovelier, brighter, and stronger than others who use the same pronouns.
The idea of illness never enters. The body housing you heals minor injuries in the time it takes for mom to give you a hug. Chicken soup and kisses serve as unfailing elixirs.
Limitless destiny carries the belief everything is achievable. Life (with the help of parents) offers gifts, birthday celebrations, prepared meals, and treats you like royalty. The guarantee of your guardians’ immortality and your own is never in doubt.
Gradually something happens. Imagination loses some of its footing while reality claims more of the ground. Spontaneity and uninhibited joy no longer arrive with the sunshine. Yet, the far side of childhood needn’t be as challenging as this sounds.
Yes, the magical healing power of mom’s touch has passed into yesterday, but other affections offer compensation.
Once middle-aged, long-standing friends don’t expect you to prove yourself. If you’ve done moderately well in pursuing your goals, achievements don’t insist on so much attention. Aches and pains may not be fun but are just the cost of living, companions reminding you to relish each instant.
Without childrearing responsibilities, more time exists to admire the sky and salute the moonlight. Meanwhile, experience has taught you the value of nature’s poetry and human kindness, evoking your gratitude. If you’ve largely escaped harm’s way, you recognize the life-enhancing necessity of giving something back, as well.
The delight of early life grows out of parental love, the dazzle of “first times,” and mastering the new world. In a sense, it also depends on the ignorance of life’s demanding adult future.
For those on the far side of youth, reclaiming joy requires something different. It asks for knowledge, not naivete: awareness of the inevitable end of things.
Recognizing that truth, all our remaining abilities and opportunities can grow in importance. We have the chance to learn and laugh, treasure precious friends and those we love even more, and savor nature’s beauty anew. They enlarge gratitude in what remains, so much of which was taken for granted before.
Life will never be perfect, but its imperfections provide perspective on what is essential at the day’s end. Chicagoans who remember Studs Terkel’s name will recall his gift of eliciting the best from the thousands he interviewed, the qualities we must seek for ourselves with age.
And, as if to remind us how to live, Studs always signed off his radio program with the words, “Take it easy, but take it.“
I am sure many of you have been moved by the human tragedies unfolding in Ukraine. Read more on how you can help Ukraine here.
The sculpture is called Joy by Bruce Garner, located in Ottawa, Canada, as photographed by Jeangagnon. Beneath it is The Joy of Playing Together by Rasheedhrasheed. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.