I made a new friend the other day.
She was trailing behind her mama through the store. Her eyes were bright and her smile infectious. She took in everything she saw with abandoned curiosity. She watched without shame or fear of reprisal. Her curiosity was not invasive or rude; it was merely close observation. Her hair was in braids. Her skin was honey brown. Her sundress and flip flops were bright and colorful. She was, perhaps, five years old.
She had watched me for a long time and for a long time she had something to say. Seeing the “something” on her face, I quickly scanned through my mental files for the potential answer. I’ve been asked many questions before and faced many comments, all to the consternation and embarrassment of the parents. It does not bother me. In fact, it always impresses me how wise and accepting these little ones are. They have no agendas and no prejudices. Their innocent inquisitiveness is part of the charm of who they are. It sets them up to be the finest students of life possible. They have so much to teach us.
She watched me as she hid within the folds of her mama’s skirt while mama was getting help from the sales clerk. I watched her while I was waiting to be checked out by the other sales clerk. I started a simple conversation to engage the little girl. “You sure are pretty. What’s your name?”
Oh my goodness! She was taken aback that she had been discovered in her hiding place. But not for long, for she boldly took a few steps closer, inspecting me now with determination. Before I could ask the next question or make further comment, all that had been tumbling through her head came tumbling across her lips. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t arrive in the form of a question. She had a statement to make.
“Those are boys shoes!”, she declared with unfeigned indignation.
The declaration came not once but twice, no less.
Oh my goodness! I was taken aback that she had been THAT observant and focused on such a tiny detail. The thing is, I began the conversation with her, hoping to make her feel comfortable enough to chat with me. I knew she had something on her mind and from experience, I had anticipated a certain line of questions. Based on experience, I expected questions about the cane, about the way I walk or similar questions out of abandoned curiosity and innocent inquisitiveness. I try to tailor my answer to their level of understanding and curiosity. I like for children not to be afraid of me nor embarrassed about their curiosity. I try to encourage them until they are satisfied. Typically, I have to spend more effort comforting the parents than I do with the child. They have so much to teach us.
How is it that a child that young would be so observant to the point of noticing that I was not wearing shoes for a girl, even though I am a girl? How is it that a child that young would be so observant to the point of noticing such a minor detail when glaring details were readily apparent that should have caused more curiosity?
The simplicity of innocence is a gift so easily lost and all too quickly. In these last few days and weeks, I have found myself caught up in my own personal mental complexities, pouring over details and scenarios that may never happen–all from anticipating a complex situation looming ahead on the horizon. Recently I made a very brash comment to someone after I had asked them about a certain aspect of their life. Their response to my question was, “It’s a long story”. Without weighing my words and without sensitivity to the person, I cut the explanation short. “Yeah well, the longer the story, the more room for bull.”
I don’t know if there is any wisdom or truth in that, but I do know that children have a lot to teach us. They process life through the eyes of simplicity. They are not distracted by the details that choke most adults. Their curiosity is natural and normal and altogether nothing to be ashamed of. Simplicity is their comfort zone. Their love and acceptance are spontaneous and unadulterated.