Yesterday I spent some time with a young friend at the Temple. He was more interested in going outside than in sitting with the other children at the family service. Since he wasn’t old enough to be clear on the whole ‘wearing shoes when we go outside’ thing, I put his shoes on him and mine on me, and we went outside.
He immediately headed for the brick walkway and was delighted to trundle down the slight slope leading toward the further back. His little momentum carried him faster and faster until I grew concerned that his little legs would not be able to keep pace with the rest of him. On his part, he appeared utterly at ease with this edge of out of control and was not particularly interested in holding my hand.
We stopped at the gazebo and I explained about gazebos and sitting and relaxing. He was willing to sit still next to me for a brief period. I continued talking to him, but he’s not yet much on using any kind of words that were comprehensible to me so just gazed around. When I sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ he turned and looked up at me with suddenly quiet interest. But one song was enough.
We kept heading back to the wild part of the grounds. Reaching the place where the brick walk abruptly ends, he was undeterred and headed straight off into the sticks and weeds. It was slow going for him. A couple steps and being tripped by a small branch on the ground. A couple more and being fooled by a slight incline. None of this seemed to bother him or be a ‘problem.’ I offered my hand through the treacherous territory and he, after a few falls, nonchalantly accepted.
Eventually, we came face-to-face with the trunk of a maple tree. He reached out his small hand and touched the bark with what I imagined to be reverence and curiosity. I followed his lead. He put both hands on the tree. Me too. The lively gray bark palpable to us both. We stood there for a few moments with our hands on the tree.
Then he stepped his little feet slightly back and began to push the tree – making low grunting noises and saying something unintelligible. He would try for a little bit, then stop to gather himself. And it was at this point that I understood his words for the first time: “I can’t push it.” He repeated this mantra over and over. Sometimes it sounded just like an observation and sometimes more of a complaint.
I joined with him in the pushing. It was a big maple tree. Straight up for fifty feet or so. But we kept on pushing and he kept on saying ‘I can’t push it.’ After a while I suggested that the tree probably wouldn’t move and encouraged him to look up and see how big the tree was. He was uninterested in the logic of the situation and kept pushing with undiminished enthusiasm.
It was a grandfatherly treat for me to be with this young person. For me, the Temple grounds became wild and new. His full and unmannered presence invited me to join into the re-creation of this astonishing world.
Pushing the tree was both a crazy and a wonderful thing – like so many other things in my life. On the balance, it seemed to be a perfectly reasonable way of spending a sunny autumn afternoon.
Eventually my attention wandered and I showed him that we could walk around the tree. He seemed content to let it go and make our way back to the Temple to join the other children. Though I suspect he would eagerly throw himself back into the pushing if he ever sees that tree again.