My then-19-month-old granddaughter Alex came for a visit with her parents in tow. They had been to Disney World not long before. Judging by the pictures they sent us, Alex was unimpressed by all the gimcrackery. Grandma's and grandpa’s house had its own attractions -- and there was no waiting in line. There were stairs to climb, a welcome change from their one-floor apartment in Brooklyn. There was the wooden seagull perched outside the glass slider in the living room, with wings that churned noisily in the wind. There were two cloth calico-cat doorstops on the floor in the corner. Upstairs there was still a chest full of toys that our own kids played with long ago. There was so much to grasp and taste and hug that Alex hardly knew where to begin. At bedtime, her grandparents – who were babysitting for the evening – got a break. Alex was so worn out by all her day’s doings that she went down without much of a fuss. She tossed her blanket and stuffed horse out of the crib in brief protest, then dropped in her tracks, curling up to sleep without so much as a whimper. The next morning Alex was soon at it again. We chased after her as she scampered from room to room, squealing with delight.
With all our accumulations in life, it sometimes takes a small child to remind us how much we have also lost. A child knows nothing except what it means to be alive. But why should a thing that lies so easily within a child’s grasp be beyond our reach? Perhaps the answer lies in all our accumulations. A small child is unencumbered by memory or expectation, freely abandoning herself to the moment, whether it brings pain or delight. There is no premeditation or regret, no steeling oneself against disappointment. When you let yourself go like that, everything comes as a surprise. You begin to understand why Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to the little ones. You cannot go there without thinking you have been there before, as indeed you have.