“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” ~ Heraclitus
Last night as I was putting my daughter to sleep, I read her the story of Cinderella. These days Annabel, who is 4 ½ , lives and breathes Cinderella, and so I read her the same story every night. As any parent with young children knows, evenings after the kids are in bed are precious times to reconnect with one’s self and one’s spouse. And so I was looking forward to finishing the book, turning off the light, kissing my little girl goodnight, and heading downstairs to be with my wife, to think and say and do adult things. In other words, I had an agenda.
My daughter, on the other hand, had no agenda. She was not thinking of or planning anything else beyond our reading the book together. Actually, reading is not the right word. Living the book might be more apt. At every page, and sometimes at each sentence on the page, Annabel would interrupt me to launch into an elaborate commentary, an extended imagining of the world of Cinderella and it’s many intersections with her own life: why mice make better friends than cats, what makes stepmother’s mean, how rags can become gowns, and which people in her life she would cast in which roles.
As long as I was focused on my goal of finishing the story, this beautiful play of the imagination was lost on me. It was an obstacle to my fulfilling my agenda and I was growing more and more impatient.
And then I noticed what was going on. I had a goal. She did not. Time was passing for me, my evening was speeding by. But time did not exist for her, her world of imagination was growing and expanding and she was caught up in a kind of eternity, an enchanted world of which we grown ups proverbially bemoan the loss. “Time is a game played beautifully by a child.”
Perhaps, I thought, if I could set aside my goal-oriented consciousness, I might be able to recover some of that expansiveness that she seemed to possess so effortlessly. I tried, with some limited success.
This morning it was my son, who is 2 ½, taking on the role of spiritual guide. It was just the two of us awake and he wanted to do a puzzle together. We pulled out an alphabet puzzle with pictures drawn on each piece to indicate it’s letter. An octopus was curved into the letter O, piano keys shaped into a P, a quail standing awkwardly in the shape of a Q. Again, I fell into an agenda—finish the puzzle. Atticus had a different idea. He wanted to take all the pieces and put them into piles, then gather all those piles into one big pile. Then he found a container and put all the pieces in the container. And finally, one by one, he would pull them out and quiz me on each letter, explain how it was upper case and not lower case, describe the picture on the puzzle piece and inform me how a quail was a kind of bird, but not a chicken, which is also a kind of bird, and so on. I don’t remember if the puzzle ever was completed, but I remember not caring anymore as I let myself get lost in this beautiful boy’s exploration of letters and words and ideas.
Alan Watts, in one of his lectures, says that when we equate life with a journey that has a goal and an end point, we have distorted the act of living. He says that music or dance is a better analogy because there is no goal involved beyond the playing of the music or the dancing of the dance. Children know this instinctively. When my daughter repeats the story of Cinderella over and over again, it is not because she is in a rush to get to the “happily ever after,” but because it is a good story, a captivating piece of music, a merry dance. Telling the story is the happily ever after.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the
Maybe what God wants is for us to join him in a dance.