Most of my childhood memories seem to be surrounded by a glowing haze of antiquity, as if those days exist as little more than fragments of something that never actually happened. Was I ever so small that I could actually lie down on carpeted steps and take a snooze? Did Todd and I really throw ourselves from the top of the banister and land in his entryway unscathed? Were our bones made of rubber?
Growing up, I played a lot in the sandbox. My friends played there, too. It was something of a special privilege in my mind. Certain friends would ask about it with awe and reverence, and I’d politely but lamely offer an excuse as to why they couldn’t play in it. I had yet to acquire the blunt audacity to tell them that they were unworthy. Only a select few could trespass on those hallowed grounds.
Today, I worked on some bricks in my mom’s garden. Bricks I laid a couple of summers ago. Bricks that moles had tunneled beneath, undoing the carefully leveled dirt, gravel, and sand that kept them in place. So, I trekked out to the edge of the backyard with a bucket and shovel and scooped up some sand from my brother’s old play area. He never knew the sandbox from our previous home like I did. His sandbox was merely a shadow of former glory, a phantom of what could have been.
As I removed the bricks and attempted to smooth out the ground beneath, I found myself playing in the sand once more. Twenty-two years of age and I was playing in the sand! Granted, I had a job to do, and I did it accordingly, but something about it made me yearn for the days of old. Back when the only interruptions to playtime were either lunch or the bathroom. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Selling Kool-Aid for ten cents a cup. Hockey in the streets. Endless summer days that stretched into eternity, the birthplace of creativity and wonder. A blissful time of youthful discovery.
Those days are long gone. I think they could have only happened during that part of my life when I was carefree and aloof. When my biggest concern was which action figure to pick out at Toys R Us. When wearing sandals with socks didn’t matter. When my little head was no more than an unrestrained, flailing mop of white-blonde hair. When girls were a strange and altogether cootie-infested bunch of giggling nincompoops.
After finishing the bricks, I washed my hands. I hadn’t noticed while working, but the sand and bricks had worn against my fingers. The moisture was nearly gone. What looked liked soap shavings or specks of sawdust were actually shredded bits of torn flesh. Dirt lined the undersides of my fingernails. My hands had borne the brunt of my labor. The scraping, lifting, nudging, and squashing went largely unnoticed. Was it possible? Had I somehow let go of my worries and concerns for long enough to enjoy what I was doing? I got lost in the moment. Some fragment of that childhood magic allowed me to forget and escape. It was both meaningful and worrisome.
If I can draw any conclusions from this experience, it would be these: we live vigorously as children, oblivious and without much worry. Our responsibilities are few. We get hurt a lot but often fail to notice. We’re immature and incapable of thinking outside of our own world, of addressing problems beyond ourselves and things of greater consequence.
As much as I yearn for what is past, the past must remain past. Children may have more fun, but it’s a selfish and self-centered kind of fun. It’s one-dimensional and narrow in scope. How many relationships do you have with people from your childhood? I can’t say I have many, and those that I do have are almost exclusively limited to times of reminiscing. We don’t make a lot of new memories together. At the time that those friendships were forged, neither of us was looking for admirable qualities in the other. In most cases, our parents threw us together while they socialized and we made due with what we had.
When you’re a kid, it’s great to be a kid. But when you grow up, it’s time to stop being a kid. That doesn’t mean you have to live an uptight, stuffy, boring existence. It doesn’t mean you can’t laugh, have fun, or enjoy another person’s company. What it does mean is that you accept responsibility:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child did: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.1 Corinthians 13:11
Perhaps it’s time I put the lid back on the sandbox.