This week, Mary took the bull by the horns and started walking solo. She had been flirting with the idea for weeks, but was reluctant to commit until last Saturday, when her lust for a toy out of reach, trumped her fear of falling. Once she had that initial rush of upright independence, she checked out into this self-dictated zone of hardcore, walk training. Her mental tenacity to keep at it, despite initially falling almost every other step was truly admirable. I would hide behind corners, so as not to break her concentration, and sneakily view, with delight, her bobbing knees and surfboard arms trying their best to keep her balanced. Every day she gets a little better. She is confident enough to choose two limbs over four in almost every circumstance, but still looks eerily like a tiny, ninety-year old woman; head down, feet shuffling and mumbling messages only she understands.
This being the fourth time I have watched this process, I was surprised at how fascinating it continues to be. We take for granted that something so innate and common place as walking, requires an awful lot of effort to master. Especially considering the trainee is simultaneously figuring out language, eating skills, and social structure (all the while measuring in at under two and a half feet tall). What amazes me most is the naturally unselfconscious attitude Mary carries with her as she progresses from infant to toddler. There is not an ounce of pretension in her accomplishments, nor does she seem in anyway concerned about her audience, or lack thereof. Her own joy at perfecting a skill is the only incentive she needs to get back up after stumbling.
It is sad to witness the inception of self-awareness: a child who scribbles on top of his artwork in black because it looks “stupid”, a slow reader mortified by his fumbling over words in class, a baseball bat tossed in frustration after a third strike. Elijah, having only been in school for close to three months, is already acutely aware of his peer’s scholastic and physical capabilities, and how his own compares. Starting in grade school, I became my own victim of self-censorship. My once flowing journal of songs, poems and stories became bland and blank after I realized I wasn’t the “best” at writing. What was the point if I wasn’t going to be paid or recognized for my work?
I believe that everyone was destined to create something out of nothing. Being made in God’s image, how could we not have the same desire for beauty and originality for its own sake? For twenty years I stunted my own growth because I was too busy being busy to waste time on artistic expression. It wasn’t until my dear friend and neighbor, Jared, decided to direct and produce his own short film, that I was inspired to dust off the corner of my brain, not directly used to rear children, and set aside time to write. For months, I watched him film, edit, and bring to life a story of his own imagination. The hours he spent after work and on weekends, must have numbered in the thousands but in the end he had a stunningly original mouthpiece for his unique voice and talents.
I am amazed by the infinite number of gifts available with which to minister to others, and thus praise God in the process. With all the degrading and demoralizing images being shoved in my face, I find my own faith strengthened by the decent, hardworking, fortitude of a person who delights in going beyond what is “necessary”. My friend, Beth, sets her dinner table with such thought and detail, making guests feel welcomed and appreciated. My Priest, in Chicago, is a carpenter and has steadfastly used those skills to beautify the temple in which he serves. My grandmother, started carving exquisite wood crosses in her seventies, and gives them away for free to those who ask. My friend Stephanie can sew, my own mother knits and crochets, my friend Jennifer has an amazing eye for decorating a space with both function and beauty. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he gave the best of what he had. We do a disservice to God by letting lie dormant, divinely instilled talents and abilities.
Every day, I sit at my computer, to work out thoughts on paper. I choose this activity over housework or phone calls, which isn’t always easy or convenient. I am quiet and receptive, and this waiting and listening for the words is an act of prayer and humility. As soon as I become self-conscious of my audience, my skill level, or my bank ability, my writing becomes forced, disingenuous, and oppressive. It ceases to bring joy and clarity. I want my kids to find spiritual enlightenment through the ups and downs of success and failure. I want them to feel the difference between the sustenance of creating as an act of praise, and the exhaustion of looking for approval.
The short, staccato rhythm of Mary’s little steps across my kitchen floor is a sweet and soothing sound to tired ears like mine, unaccustomed to such blatant self-acceptance. I get down on my knees and reach out my hands. “C’mon baby”, I call out. Immediately, her face lights up with happiness. She giggles and pants, trying her hardest to catch her legs up with her arms, now aching for a hug. Her bottom half twists, straight- legged, from side to side, much like that of cowboy entering a saloon. The last two steps are more of a lunge and then finally, we fall over laughing in an embrace, both thrilled with her achievement.