I don’t know her name. I don’t know her parents’ names. But this little child lights up my life every Sunday morning at St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston, and when she does I am filled with gratitude toward her Mom and Dad for bringing her there.
She does this simply by being herself. And being herself means running.
I am typically kneeling in a pew lost in prayer when I catch her flouncy dark curls in my peripheral vision. She’s so tiny, the top of her head is all that’s visible. On cold mornings she might be wearing her Minnie Mouse knitted hat. She’s adorable in that hat, but I like the curls better.
And she’s running. Always running. And always several steps in front of her parents. Although just a tyke, she knows right where she’s going, knows which pew near the front is “theirs.”
This won’t be her only dash of the morning. A littler later, about halfway through the service, she’ll be off again, only in the opposite direction. I get a better look at her this time because she’s coming toward me. She’s quiet, save for the sound of her prancing feet, but the smile on her face tells you she’s this close to a fit of the giggles. Seeing her, so am I.
I can only assume this second sprint is a trip to the bathroom. I draw this conclusion based on: one, the look on her dad’s face as he trails several feet behind, fully aware this bathroom “emergency” is a farce; and two, the fact that I have a daughter who 30 years ago was not much different.
Interestingly, Dad was not along last Sunday, only Mom. And on this day, there was no second trot down the aisle. Mommy, it appears, is not the pushover Daddy is. I can relate.
The joy that fills me as I observe this innocent child dovetails nicely with the reason I am at Mass in the first place. I consider myself a follower of Christ. No offense, but the trappings of formal religion, even this one that I’ve practiced my entire life, can be trying. But never the words of Christ. Christ’s words are never not pure, never not direct, never not beautiful, never not perfect. Chief among these, in my heart, is to be childlike in our relationship with God. “Truly I tell you,” Evangelist Mark writes, “anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The little girl with the flouncy curls is there to remind me of this. And she does her job well.
At communion, I often think of her. I’ve said at times, if we truly believe we are approaching the altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we should crawl up there on our hands and knees with tears in our eyes. But that’s wrong. What we should do is run up there the way a little child would.
In fact, we should make an effort to do everything the way a little child would.
We used to, didn’t we? Didn’t each of us run through life with the same enthusiasm of the little girl in church? In the morning, we ran down the stairs to breakfast. On the playground, we ran from the swings to the slide, and back again. My goodness, in kindergarten we even ran to the school bus.
Makes you wonder what happened as we grew older.
I’m around young adults every day at the college. I’m not sure it’s possible for human beings to move any slower. Whenever I walk across campus, perhaps to the bookstore or the president’s office, I will fly past dozens and dozens of them on their way to classes. I leave them in the dust. And I’m only walking at my normal pace.
That’s not a knock on them. It’s just an observation. They’re no more than 15 years or so older than the peanut in church. Where did their sparkle go?
And how about our own? When was the last time we ran from the parking lot to the door of the restaurant, or from the clubhouse to the first tee?
I do believe we are missing out on something. And so I am proposing yet another special “day” on the calendar: National Run Like a Child Day.
Since June 4 is National Running Day, perhaps it can be June 3 or June 5. Or even June 6, my daughter’s birthday. She’ll be 36 this year but I clearly remember her curls, although blonde, also bouncing as she ran.
The goal on National Run Like A Child Day will be simple. Just do what the day calls for. Even if it’s only a run to the bathroom, as I’ve seen my 101-year-old friend John Markarian do when his diuretic kicks in. For the record, John’ll be 102 on June 7. And he’s still pretty quick.
The college semester will be over by then, so my students won’t get to see me running from my office to my classroom. Something tells me, however, they wouldn’t be phased. They already think I’m a little crazy.
That’s what they call adults who strive to keep the child in them alive.
I’m OK with that.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.