The joys of childhood. Oh, the memories! Such good times! One danger of old age is a tendency to live in the past. We look back and think we remember a time when everything was golden and happy. Of course, when we stop to think, we remember also many unhappy times, times when we experienced fear, sadness, and even boredom. Some, tragically, suffered trauma. But for many the happy times win out, don’t they? And so we dream of earlier, happier days, when life was simpler, when we were filled with energy, and when our bodies—our backs, our knees and so on—did not ache.
Old age certainly has its challenges. It also has its treasures, though. We have, hopefully, learned many things throughout our lives, from the experiences of childhood and throughout the productive years of adult life. We are the way we are now because of what went before. And so it is that, in a very real way, our childhood is not a thing of the past, but part of who we are today. It is a treasure tucked away within us. We had fun as children, but we were learning important lessons as well.
One of my memories of childhood is of a golden time on the beach, under a hot summer sun. My cousins and I were children of the water, rejoicing in the waves. But beyond the simple pleasures, there were deep lessons to be learned.
All boys are naughty, aren’t they? We came up with what we thought at the time was a hilarious stunt. We would wade out up to our chests in the opaque sea water, take off our swim trunks, and hold them up and wave with them to people on the beach. Being naughty is wonderful if you are a young boy. But one naughty thing can lead to another, and a brilliant idea came to me out of nowhere, and I reached over, grabbed the closest boy’s trunks from his hand, and threw them on the shore. Now he was stuck, and the only way he could get them was to walk back to the beach, naked for all to see. I thought this was hilarious. As we put on our swimming trunks and walked back to the beach, this young cousin of mine was left behind, stuck out in the water.
Then, looking back at him, I saw him crying. Not just a few tears, but a torrent of emotional embarrassment. I felt ashamed, retrieved his trunks, and threw them out to him. Now he could put them on and return to the beach.
Hopefully, as we grow in maturity, we learn how cruel laughter can be, laughter that is aimed at others. There is nothing wrong with a good innocent chuckle, especially if we chuckle at ourselves. But laughter at someone, cruel laughter, mockery, is hellish, beastly.
Such are the things we learn in childhood, or at least begin to learn. Such lessons can take a lifetime. In old age, though, perhaps we have learned the lesson of kindness. People are more fragile than we may think. People can be hurt. To take pleasure in the suffering of another, to laugh at them, is evil. To know the importance of kindness, to feel this, is a blessing from the Lord. It is one of many blessings with roots in our childhood, a treasure to be experienced most deeply in our old age.