Child-like vs. Childish

My first job after undergrad was working for one my professors who was a close mentor while I was a student. That isn’t terribly remarkable but let me elaborate. This professor taught movement (BFA, acting) and moonlighted as the local Kung Fu master and Tibbetan Buddhist lama (not making this up). His off campus studio space was pulling triple duty as a martial arts studio, dance studio (both he and his wife were also dancers), and meditation center. Shortly before I graduated they raised the funds to buy an old church cum gothic night club to convert into a Buddhist Gompa for the local community of believers with a separate movement studio in the basement. 
I was hired to help and later ran the final stages of renovation before moving out of state for another job. One of my last days there, my boss/mentor, with his wife and daughter, took us all out to eat. We were quite the mix and the conversation was lively and animated. It drifted away from work for a while but then suddenly hit upon a question only my boss/mentor could answer. All eyes turned to him. He sat with his young daughter at the far end of the table playing animatedly with her action figures. For a moment I saw a rare child like abandonment made even more surprising because he is a large and powerful man whose body and mind has been honed through years disciplined study. 
Someone at the table made a comment and we all, including my mentor, laughed but still smiling he said, “we should all strive to stay child like but not childish”
That was twelve years ago. If my memory is right, his daughter probably just finished her first year of college. My mentor and I hardly interact much now but when I’m back in town I always try to drive by the Gompa, just to make sure it’s there. 
What does it mean to be child like? To be childish? As (fairly) new father I get to see on a daily, if not hourly basis, the wonder and resilience of a young child unburdened with preconceptions. I believe her joy at discovering the simple wonders of the world (and are they really that simple?) is the core of “child like” quality adults like myself must actively cultivate faster than the habits and disappointments of life wear away at the wonderment. It isn’t just a pleasure response. She gets frustrated by external events—if I tripped that much or had such trouble putting both legs in the same pants, I’d give up and sit nake until I starved—but she always tries again. With this wonderment comes an empowering faith that despite her current setbacks she can and will accomplish all the amazing things she sees us doing around her. 
It isn’t all wonderment and roses. This same child who recovers from a fall faster than you can say, “uh oh” will scream like your ripping off her toenails if her bottle of milk doesn’t come fast enough. She can become fixated on inconsequential or impossible demands (crayons are way more fun than knives, I promise baby!). This inward focus and narrow fixation on base appetites is what I see was the core of “childish” behaviors. 
What does all this mean? I don’t know. When bugs grow they have to shed their skeletons but I don think we’re like that. I think we humans are more like trees gaining layer upon layer of growth. We carry our child-selves with us to manifest in child-like or childish ways. 

Living by Grace


My wife graduated from Wake Forest last Saturday (MFA Documentary Film). We went to nearby Grace Court Park the next day to take pictures. Grace Court is a small park just outside of downtown Winston Salem with lovely landscaping and a large, well-kept gazebo in the center. During the warmer months the park is never crowded but weddings, photo shoots, and couples on its many benches are common. My daughter loves it. She chases robins and people watches for hours. 

So while we were shooting a portrait of just my wife the Little One kept running to the other side of the park to photobomb a wedding photoshoot. A nice gentleman offered to keep on eye on her while we finished up. A little desperate I thanked him and he trailed after the racing toddler gently directing her away from the other photoshoot. 


In a few minutes we were ready for my daughter. As were setting up I talked with her impromptu sitter for a few minutes. Thirty eight years ago to the day he and his wife were married at Grace Court Park. They were first couple to be married there. In fact, the park was still private property and he had to approach the owner for permission. They setup tents where there are now three young trees and held both the ceremony and reception in the garden. Six years ago his wife passed away. Every year since he comes on their anniversary, May 15th, to quietly clean and beautify the park in memory of his wife and their marriage. Blinking back tears, I asked him if we could take a picture with our daughter. We took the picture just after 2pm, the exact time he was married 38 years ago.