What You Notice Now Having Been There And Done That
Now, I am going to reveal a great truth to all my faithful readers. Nevertheless, you won't understand it...unless you are old as the hills as I am. You won't really comprehend much of what you are reading today, but decades from now, you will get it.
I wrote the basic skeleton of this article to a straight-A student of mine in a philosophy class. Now, my truth and insight was addressed to her and to the rest of the class. I waxed over what I am about to share with you knowing full-well that neither she, the class, nor you are really going to appreciate it...not for another 50-years, which is the case for most of my class that are in their late teens/early twenties.
The only advantage of being old as the hills is that you see and perceive things radically differently than you did when you were younger. Trust me. What you perceive to be your Weltanschauung or your perception of reality and about which you see as true, accurate, complete, and understood clearly will change in the coming years...radically. This is merely a warning about which to be careful even though that warning is foolish since you don't have a Sitz im Leben or framework upon which to be careful.
I have a 3-year old and a 1-year old grandsons whose birthdays are within the same week. So their parents celebrated their birthdays on the same day this year with their families and neighborhood friends. Jack, who is 3 and Owen who is 1 have lived their lives as children having been loved...by all the family. Their parents are excellent parents, their father's family love the two of them and care for them. On the mother's side, Ann, my wife, and I go to Indy every Tuesday to babysit and often more than once a week. Those two children are loved. They are loved, cuddled, played with, etc. more than any two kids that I know. Everyone within their nuclear or extended families have had many opportunities to show and demonstrate that member's love for those children. It is abundantly clear that those two are loved and cherished by all.
Now, back to their birthday party a couple weeks ago. Jack, who is 3, is blowing out the candles and everyone is singing Happy Birthday. How many times have you done precisely that in your lifetime? I have three adult children, family members, and friends with whom I have gone through that dance hundreds of times.
However, at 70-years old, I saw that same dance differently this time and will never forget it. When you are a grandparent, you aren't as concerned as you were when your children were growing up. I recognize that having been there and done that many, many times before. When I was a parent, I watched everything and was concerned about everything...like when the child would walk or talk, colds, serious potential medical problems, school, dating, driving, college, etc., etc.
Having said that I was very observant, I will tell you that I missed most of what was really important. Had someone warned me when I was a young father, I would have agreed with that person who was cautioning me to watch and observe very carefully and then go back to caring for my kid and miss it. And so will you.
How is that for cautioning and then saying that you won't see what really is critical. Perhaps, that is the reason for us old goats still grazing around in life. The next generation needs some of us to linger longer just to be around and preach...even though you can't really hear. It is a Catch-22.
There I sat with my camera in my hand taking the 8,745 pictures that day to be put into my computer that stores 117,865 other pictures of my world travels and my family. Owen had his birthday celebration and was put down for a nap. It was now Jack's turn. He knew the dance. First, they family and friends would sing, he'd blow out 3-candles, and he'd open .75 tons of toys and clothes.
So I positioned myself to get the greatest pictures. The group sang...and then it happened. I was so taken by the moment that I don't have the picture of that moment that lasted for maybe 10-seconds and for which I would pay any amount of money. Jack stopped me completely. There he sat in front of all his admiring family and friends receiving their joyous adorations on his 3rd birthday. And what I saw stunned me as much as it stunned him. Here was a child who family and friends really love, care, and dote over him and have now for 3-years.
And his expression was shocked amazement at everyone's excitement about him and his 3rd birthday. He didn't utter these words, but the words were written boldly all over his face. "You really do love...don't you?"
Jack's facial expression numbed me. I wanted to say, "Jack, why are you so surprised that all of us love you? How many times have our actions telegraphed that to you?" Instead of interrupting his moment of amazement with my question, I could only just sit there as the "Happy Birthday" rang out as I watched his expression, "You really do love me...don't you?"
Jack was totally overwhelmed in sheer joy. That got me. Because every moment of his life people are dotting over him and his brother. I kid you not. However, he needed that reaffirmation. That was the thing that got to me. A truly loved kid needed that moment. I don't know of a person that has come into his life as a family member or friend that doesn't love him. And there I sat having sung that song to him before and to loads of others at other times...but this was the first that I really experienced the moment.
This was the only picture that I was able to take of Jack blowing out the candle. It was maybe a minute after his shock of all that praise. He was now determined to prove the crowd's vote of confidence by handling the candle well.
After the party was over, we hugged him and his brother goodbye, it was then that Jack's response got me to process my reaction. My mind started to drift off to other less fortunate children as the cake, laughter, and balloons abounded. What about another child that isn't so loved? Can any of you imagine what that poor child feels and needs?
My philosophy class was discussing the philosophy of art, and, as a teaching aid, I had them watch the movie, Immortal Beloved, which is about Beethoven's life. What about his family and how did some treat him...like his drunken father who would physically abuse him as a child? Do you see that we are made into the people that we become due in large part to how the outside world deals with us? Abuse the child like Beethoven, and then we miss the issue. We say he composed great music but was an angry and hateful person especially to women.
This the same thing that we talked about several weeks before when I used the movie, Les Miserables, as that week's teaching aid. Victor Hugo, who wrote the novel, told of a man who stole a loaf of bread so that his sister and child didn't starve to death. The French society then didn't care about the poor or poverty of the French society. Hugo wrote Les Miserables as a critic of the society of the time. They arrested and labeled Valjean a criminal, and he does 19-years as a result. Do you all see the disconnect? We don't care about people and when they have to care for themselves...we label them. Beethoven was a mean old guy and Valjean was a thief. It is as if Beethoven and Valjean lived in some societal vacuum isolated from people that caused them to respond in the ways they did. Then the society critiques them. Hmmm.
Plato's philosophy in The Republic addressed the problems of society by having citizens who were functioning in a world devoid of emotions. Therefore, a good citizen doesn't lower him/herself to feelings, which only will cause problems. Part of Plato's dissing of emotions seems to be related to the emotional response of the Athenians' emotional response to Socrates, which resulted in his suicide.
My point to the class was that IMHO, Aristotle had a less extreme approach to life and problems...one that he called the via media or the middle road. It seems to me that the other two roads are dysfunctional.
The first road is societal indifference to the needs of others as seen with my epiphany at Jack and Owen's birthday party. Jack has it all...but as a 3-year old wasn't certain. There are billions of people who are growing up or who have grown up not as loved as he...and he needed reaffirmation of that reality? What about the others? We need to do far more for those not as fortunate as Jack and Owen...in this country and everywhere else in the world.
The other extreme side of the via media is the road of not getting emotionally involved in life. Just go by the book, and like robots function in some Orwellian world. It doesn't appear to this septuagenarian that either side of the road on life a person walks that it will get us anywhere that we need to go. Thanks to the innocent face of a 3-year old, I learned something and hopefully you all will also learn...at least some time.
Now, some of you who weren't at the double-birthday are asking, what about Owen's face during the cheers? And knowing Owen for a year, my guess is that our singing "Happy Birthday" to him didn't even registered in his mind at that time. There was his first birthday cake...
The following are statements Owen uttered.
Visit the "Campbell's Cooking Class" page to read more about this topic.