The Whys of a Child
by Barbara Crafton
When I am listening to the BBC here, listeners in the UK are doing something about breakfast and ironing a shirt for work. Those in India are coming to the end of a hot afternoon and thinking about heading home. Listeners in Africa are having supper.
This would account for the chipper energy of the broadcast in the North American wee hours. It's breakfast table talk: news, special features (today's was part of a series about funeral customs throughout the world: Irish wakes this morning). Cricket scores from matches played the day before. The sort of radio adults and children can listen to together.
Sometimes the news is terrible, of course. Things no child should have to know about. I think of them at the breakfast table, after school, asking their parents anxiously about something they don't understand: But what is a prostitute? Did they kill the people on purpose? But why don't they just leave? Why can't we just send food there? Can't they just take medicine and get better? Are they going to bomb our house? Simple questions -- the parents grope for answers, and realize that some of the innocent questions are points very well taken. Why can't they take medicine? Why don't we send food? They pour the tea and straighten the school tie, fix the braids, pat the little shoulders softly, find ways to set their children's minds at some ease, wishing they never had to pick their way through fearsome news and somehow find hope to offer their little ones.
This week there is a contest: write in with your life's ambitions. Things you want to do before your life is over. You win a radio if they choose yours as the best one. A young medical student from India would like to play in a rock band and serve the poor in Africa. A woman from California wants to ride a bicycle up the West coast. I lie in the scented dark of the India Room, staring up at the saris hung across the canopy over the bed, seeing the shadows from the flickering candle on the wall, and think about my life's ambitions.
They have changed since I was the age of the children having breakfast and asking questions halfway around the world. To be a dancer and an orchestra conductor and an archeologist, all at once - that was my very ambitious ambition when I was a little girl. A lawyer, for a while, and then a history professor for a while. No female priests on the scene yet, when I was young, so my ultimate vocation came up only once in my imagination, when I was seven. I was kindly told that girls couldn't be priests, only boys. One more odd thing about the adult world. Oh, I said, and forgot all about it.
And yours? The thing you do not want to go to your Maker not having done? Are you close? Do you ever think of it now, or has it been placed on a shelf marked "later"?
Sometimes we get those things down off the shelf and dust them off, and they no longer look like something we would want to do. What was I thinking? we wonder. And sometimes they still shine, and we still want them.
We should try to get close to them. As close as we can. And we should get right on it, because we don't know when later will come, or even if there will be a later. Because not all the news is good news, and we don't have forever. All we have for sure is right now.
Copyright©2004 Barbara Crafton
From The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm, e-mail messages sent by Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Crafton. Crafton's eMo's are published in book form by Church Publishing. Visit her Web site at http://www.geraniumfarm.org