It's important to connect with the child within

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 20:00

One of the most poignant Twilight Zone episodes I ever saw on television was the one set at a home for senior citizens. While most of the residents sat idly in the recreation room, staring vacantly at the television screen, watching the hours and days go by, one of the more enterprising folks wanted to go outside and play kid games, such as kick the can.

After exhaustive coaxing and cajoling, the restless member of the group finally persuaded others to venture outdoors. One stubborn old man remained behind, worried that they’d get into trouble, or hurt themselves. He watched through the window as the seniors dashed wildly around the yard kicking a can, laughing and giggling. Soon the sounds of grownup gaiety turned into the laughter of children, as the group played hike and seek in and around the bushes. Regretful that he didn’t join them, the old man pleaded with one of his closest friends, now only nine years old and in oversized, droopy clothing, that he might join them. The friend shook his head and as he ran away with the others, their voices faded into the distance.

Too often, I think, we neglect the child that dwells within each of us. I’ve always believed that children have important lessons to teach us about life. They see the world with wider, more expectant eyes, a keen sense of wonder that is as precious as life itself. Einstein, it is said, was a great physicist because he knew how to ask the kind of fundamental questions that children ask — questions that generally begin with “Why?” For example: “Why, when they shoot off fireworks, do I see the flash before hearing the bang?” Even in his advanced years as he struggled to develop a Unified Field Theory, Einstein never stopped asking those kinds of questions.

Another television program that touched me deeply was an interview with a psychiatrist who broached the subject from a clinical perspective — how getting in touch with the childlike part of ourselves could trigger an emotional healing process. He said that we should flash back to a happy time from our childhood, whether it was catching our first fish, learning how to ride a bicycle, experiencing the excitement of a Christmas morning, going to a place like Disneyland, and then imagining ourselves as adults standing next to ourselves as children. He said that we should then talk directly to that child, telling him or her that we love them, that we have not forgotten them, that we understand them. We should carry on a dialogue with that child, he said, asking them about their life and what their opinion was on the world around them.

Throughout my life I had often flashed back to childhood memories, but before watching that program, I had never thought about carrying on a virtual discourse like the psychiatrist recommended. If someone saw us doing this, I thought, it would appear as if we were talking to ourselves and they’d call the people with white coats! But I finally tried it, and it was nothing short of magical. I felt a deeper, more meaningful connection with myself than I could remember. Since then I’ve done it many other times, perhaps what Star Trek’s Spock would call an adult-child mind meld. It has always left me feeling stronger, steadier, more centered within myself.

I’m not really sure how it works. Perhaps making that connection has a way of healing some of the wounds that have come from mistakes we’ve made in our lives — and we’ve all made them. Maybe it resurrects a part of ourselves that we’ve misplaced, a better part of ourselves that shouldn’t be buried and forgotten. All I know is that through this process, which I’ve continued in various ways throughout my life; like asking children questions and really listening to their answers, doing fun things like building snowmen, or simply marveling at the beauty of nature as I did in my youth, I find tremendous healing.

I wrote the following poem after watching the TV interview with the psychiatrist. It is about a childhood memory from Seward, when for “endless summers,” we played a game called “cars” in a sand pile near my house.


The endless summer


I will sit on the side

and watch you

carve moist dirt

with eager fingers

and build a civilization

of sticks and rocks.


You move with quiet resolve

to another part of the sand pile,

borrowing finer grade material

for the roads you’ve smoothed

with the heel of your hand.


You glance up

as a sparrow flits over,

and for awhile you are lost

in mountains, sky, clouds…

clouds that drag shadows

from your yard to the next.


In late afternoon

the bay calms

and its stillness floats

into your eyes.

For awhile you listen for something,

then return to your project.


Mother calls for dinner,

but you don’t want to go in…

…not just now.

You never wanted

to go in.


The others grew up

and moved away,

and only you are left

in the sand pile

as darkness sifts

into your town.


But don’t worry.

I will stay with you.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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