Over the last several months, the world of human history as it appears in the reported events of our newsfeeds has made me — and so many of you — feel deep disappointment and alienation.
At the same time — in addition to engaging adult humans who are life-giving rather than soul-sucking and experiencing incredible art — I’ve encountered interesting children who have managed to dispel the general mood of despair.
Not too long ago, after having just discussed with my students Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, VI [On the train, the woman standing], a 1-train toddler leaned on me in order to get a better look out the window into the deep darkness.
His mom was concerned about his shoes rubbing against my coat.
I waved hello.
He waved hello.
I waved again.
He waved again.
I waved again.
HE WAVED AGAIN.
It pretty much ended there — after I acknowledged to myself that I had met my match.
On another day, not too long after that day, another 1-train toddler looked at me, smiled, and made a heart with her fingers.
The adult woman with her looked very surprised. We made eye contact, and I shrugged and smiled back. She then asked the child, “You like the nice lady, honey?”
But then the toddler made a few triangles with her fingers.
That was confusing.
Because it’s possible she wasn’t conveying any particular kind of love at all; it’s possible she’s just a shape-making genius.
OR it’s possible she wanted me to know that she loved me AND that she could make multiple shapes with her fingers.
After sharing the latter stories on Facebook, a concerned friend and colleague felt compelled to warn me about the deceit and fickleness of toddlers.
I understood his trepidation as based on personal experience, and I will remain ever so cautious because there’s no knowledge like personal experience.
After all, I’m not a chump with a humanities Ph.D. for nothing.
But THEN, just last week, there was this particularly wonderful five year old whose sensitive creativity moved me.
He moved me so much — it brought me here, to writing this story down.
His mother had an important meeting scheduled that doubled over with unexpected circumstances as happens in the life of anyone who is not a disembodied worker.
So I happily hung out with her five year old after work.
It was beautiful outside. We walked a little. Skipped a little. Spun around a little.
(Or maybe I just spun around?)
A few of my students saw us as they walked by, and I introduced him as my good friend.
And as good friends of approximately three decades apart do, we discussed various subjects.
We discussed the garbage cans that are actually beds of flowers. The trees outside Hamilton Hall that are sprouting new leaves. A puppy someone dressed up as the Central Park mandarin duck who, incidentally, no longer resides in Central Park (according to my friend).
We discussed the general likability of pizza. His preference for orange cheese and white cheese. Why his school doesn’t serve cookies. And why the lion head that is actually a fountain head had pink paint in its mouth.
I said — that’s because someone tried to brush his teeth.
And then I said — well, actually, I sang because I couldn’t help myself — it was brushing its teeth having so much fun, but it never let the water run. No. It never let the water run.
He humored me by full-on laughing. He knew the reference well.
At a certain point, a cardinal flew past us.
We were both stunned.
After registering what had occurred, my friend immediately said, “We should write it down!”
He then showed me that the bag his mom packed for him had notebooks and a sticky pad with a pen. He handed me a sticky note with the pen and dictated what I should write. When I finished writing, he took the sticky note and stuck it on a book.
A few moments later, a sparrow flew by.
He said the same – that we should write it down. So I took another piece of paper from the pad and wrote it down. He again stuck it against a book.
When his mother returned, I excused myself for a moment to run to the bathroom.
And run I did.
When I returned to mom and child, I saw he wrote this down —