Much to the dismay of my mother, children frankly bother me. They are loud. They are oddly always sticky or soon to be sticky. They are difficult to understand. Children take a level of patience that is not necessarily in my wheelhouse. So I dreaded the thought that I would be working with the kids at the Neighborhood House, but what I got wrong was that I was going to be working, rather this week I would be playing.
Being childlike is something that I am not necessarily comfortable because so often we are told to: “Sit up straight! Tuck in your shirt! Don’t be so loud! What are you laughing for?! Only speak when spoken to! Stop touching that! That was a stupid question! Don’t wonder around! Don’t speak to strangers! Grow up! Stop being a child!” Children, however, possess a blessed ignorance because for a few short years they are unaware of the cruelty of the reality they will soon enter. The reality that being childlike, being themselves, is not a favorable trait. Children are not yet aware that looking different means you will be treated different. Children are not aware that being a girl or a boy will set you on different and storied paths. Children are not yet fully aware of the separateness of the other.
Children see in a world wearing a different pair of glasses. While the eyes of an adult might look towards someone and ask, “Can I trust them? What will I get out of this relationship?” A child look towards someone and asks, “Will you be my friend? Will you play chase with me?”
How wonderful might it be if we all look towards a stranger, towards ‘the other,’ with the lens of a child?
While on retreat this week with a group from Loyola Academy it was easy to get lost in the laughter of new friendships and from the harsh realities of the world. But CrossRoads, and the Crosswalk Retreat is different, if I fully enter into the rhythm of the retreat I am called to recognize my surroundings. Called to recognize the make-shift memorial across from the 4th and Oak Street bus-stop where we wait everyday. Called to recognize the torn-down buildings tattered in rubble piles. Called to recognize the abandoned homes and buildings at the backs of the resting homeless. Crosswalk calls us to build radical relationships and see the world through the eyes of our new friends. So if I recognize the world through the lens of the children I fell deeply in love with, if I see the world through their eyes, then my eyes fill with tears. For if I approached the world with their childlike wonder then I recognize that I can no longer ask to be friends with Deng Manyoun, a “Lost Boy” who’s troubled story would no doubt have filled me with wonder. If I approached the world with their childlike energy then my feet and knees would be scrapped and bloodied from asking, “Why in my neighborhood can a rubble heap find refuge in the political landscape of our city’s game of hide-and-seek?” If I look with the lens of a child then my back would be aching as I pondered why a homeless man, woman, or child can rest their belongings only on the outside walls of an abandoned building, but cannot offer resurrection to a home that wastes away behind boarded windows.
As an adult, I am not allowed to ask those “stupid questions.” As an adult, I am not allowed to move my fingers over certain buttons, or have certain bumper stickers on my car, or give voice to some truths. As an adult I must wash off the sticky realities that touch my hands and I must quiet my discomforting cries as I might stick to and alarm others in their state of comfort.
So I will not speak as an adult, I will speak instead with the prophetic voice of the 3, 4, and 5-year-old children in the Mustang and Stallion classrooms: Will you be my friend? Will you chase me out of poverty? Will you let me climb over the rubble of my forced affliction? Will you hold my hand as I wait in line at the soup kitchen? Will love me even if I am gay? Will you only play monster and not see me as a monster even though my skin color is black? Will you pick me up and make me feel like Superman so I will not be afraid of the gunfire I hear each night, because it is easier to gain access to drugs and guns than it is to gain affordable access to fruits and vegetables? Will you let me be loud in my voiceless tucked-in corner of society as I struggle to speak out against the lack of quality education? Will you let me see the world with childlike curiosity? Will you love me despite our preconceived-differences? Will you support my dreams to vision a different reality? Will you let me be a child? Or, will you tell me it’s time to grow up?