Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Growing Younger

With just a little time to catch up on my blogging for the week while my son and daughter sleep---miraculously---at the same time, I reflect on their innocence, their faith in my husband and I as their parents, their excitement for life. In what ways can we keep our hearts always this young and supple? How do we find within ourselves our very essence?

So often I have the perception that Life reveals themes for me to ponder in concentrated forms. This afternoon at Toastmasters all three formal speakers gave speeches that embraced a common theme: the relationship of the unique and aging self to the Universe. I frequently leave Toastmasters and the genuine, thoughtful people I have met there, with questions about the greater truth. There may be a perception that we come together each Tuesday only to work on our speaking skills, yet what I see and hear from my friends there is an authentic opening of their hearts and minds as they stand before the rest of us. Jerone Lee asked us today to consider ourselves as part of a symphony, each one of us a special instrument that must play our individual part with faith that the Great Conductor will help us to transition from theme to theme. He exhorted us to celebrate our unique roles, without fear. He acknowledged that some of us play minor melodies of melancholy, and others play the bright major notes of optimism. His metaphor was quite powerful, made more heartfelt by experience as a musician who has played all over the world.

As I look at my children napping nearby one another, I wonder what each of their roles will be in this great wide universe.

Bob Freel, whose objective today was to plunge us into a mood of merrymaking with a humorous speech, reminded us that growing physically old is inevitable. Exaggerating the use of his body, Bob demonstrated the seven ways to deal with putting on underwear as we age, the three ways of getting up off of the ground, and a few other unexpected pieces of advice for dealing with our declining bodies. In an ironic twist, however, Bob proved that he has the stamina of one young at heart and quite fit: few people could have actually pulled off the physically demanding slapstick speech that he showed us. He was rolling on the ground, jumping around, and keeping a good pace despite the aerobic nature of his speech. I found myself thinking about Jerone's speech and the idea of Bob using his time---and our time on Earth is finite---to put something positive out into the world. In all the time I have known him, I have known Bob to be someone who wants the best from others and who, most importantly, seems to hold himself to that same standard. I think that may be what I respect most about him. He uses his voice, his instrument, to put passion and humor and thought before audiences big and small.

We never know why, at first, our paths intersect with those of certain people for a time. There may be cases why we never know even at the end. But I do know I am meant to be learning from this particular group of people right now, and that is one of the reasons I keep returning. Bob addressed even some of us who were younger in the audience, as he joked that one day we would all be old and going through similar situations. Even though most of me found that very humorous, the serious side of Sarah got just a little sad. I know someday when I am 80-years-old or 90-years-old, some of these friends that I see every week will no longer be here. In that moment when I am doing the knee-bounce to stand up, will I remember Bob in his Grumpy t-shirt making jokes and talking just about this very moment? I know I will.

And then there was Steve Matley's prepared speech. Steve is known for his humor, but this speech was quite serious. In a speech that almost had me in tears several times (I used to cry only very rarely, but after having children I am a ball of weepiness, probably permanently), Steve spoke of being a young dad and raising his daughters. He demonstrated several magic tricks that he used to do for them and how they always believed in "Daddy Magic", especially when they were young. He could solve any problem, making anything better, heal any hurt. And then they grew up...

It was a poignant speech, I thought, as I sat next to my own dad at the meeting. I thought of how my dad used to make hand puppets, too, and it was only just like yesterday. There was nothing my dad couldn't do. In my heart of hearts, even though my mind knows he is human just like me and therefore given the same limitations we all have, I still believe that my dad can fix anything or do anything. It made me both happy and nostalgic to realize that I still think that of my own dad. I have faith in him, and in my mom, beyond the faith they probably both have in themselves. I wonder if I seem that way to my own children. It's funny, because I know that I am still such a baby in so many ways, myself: every once in awhile life brings me puzzles to solve and I realize that adults/parents don't have all the answers. If anything, adulthood and parenthood only bring more questions. So, does that mean that my parents still feel like children, too, sometimes? Do they still have questions, too? Do I see them as adults even when they don't feel like they are?

Steve's larger point, though, was that he, too, has faith in his "daddy," God (Jerone's Great Conductor) even when he has burdens that feel too heavy to bear. It was either Steve or Jerone (and I think it was Steve) who compared faith to the innocence of a child sleeping.

Which returns me now to my own sleeping children. And how much I hope their faith in me is not misplaced, even though in my darker self-critical moments, sometimes I think it is. I am so imperfect and have many moments when I wish my children could have a better guide through this life than I am---like someone who knows everything about what she's doing. But I know that isn't realistic. I know that, perhaps, no real parent ever feels like she does know everything. We are just waiting for our children to discover how imperfect we are, and then, by some kind of grace, to love us regardless.

Even half as much as we love them.