Among my favorite New Yorker cartoons is one of two guys at a bar in which one says to the other, “If I start quoting Nietzsche, get me out of here.” I’ve not been drinking, but I’ll quote one of my favorite Nietzsche aphorisms anyway, those pithy sentences that are about 10 pages in “Beyond Good and Evil.” Yes, I know, some are decidedly misogynistic, others reflect his will-to-power ideology, and some are, to me anyway, just inscrutable. But some are profound insights into human nature. One such is this: “Man’s maturity: to regain the seriousness of a child at play.”
I have had, joyfully, the opportunity to observe this seriousness first-hand again the past couple of days. Jonnie Sue and I are in Southern Maryland at the moment. We left Arlington in the late night hours Sunday on receiving the call that the birth of our ninth grandchild was imminent. She was born about two a.m. Monday morning, a week early, and has survived that most risky time – the first 24 hours – just fine. We haven’t seen her yet; our calling has been to care for her two and four year old sisters while mom and dad are at the hospital.
In taking our four year old. Cathy, to catch the bus for pre-school, it has been fascinating to watch her fill the minutes waiting with play, not the structured play that adults create for children, but that which springs from their own curiosity and developing sense of order and purpose. While waiting for the bus, she occupied herself with picking up small sticks of various lengths and sticking them upright in the soft dirt. She was very thoughtful about each placement. I couldn’t discern a patterns, but she must have had one in mind; it was so deliberate. I didn’t want to spoil her concentration by asking. The point is that she was utterly engrossed – intent and focused – on the task at hand. I’ve seen this before on previous visits, watching her configure her Brio train tracks into various imaginative and functioning patterns.
How different that world is from that which we inhabit as we grow into adulthood, with various distracting soundtracks running in our minds all the time: of hopes and fears, painful and happy memories, concerns for others, anxieties about money, anxieties about the health of our souls and bodies, anxieties about what others will think of us and what we are working on.
Jesus might have had something like this in mind in his comments about receiving the kingdom of heaven like a little child. Oh, to be able to recover it!
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 10-March-2015.