His eyes sparkled like sugar crystal over wet, blue paint framed by black lashes that flared out like a starburst. I’d asked him if he had done anything fun this summer, and with great excitement, he came alive and told me he’d been to the zoo.
I proceeded to ask him what his favorite animal was that he had seen that day. It was a game I liked to play with children; ask questions that start their brain cells running like a hamster on a wheel. The room heats up with the excitement that their emotions emit. I guess it is rather self-satisfying; maybe it is a way to feel alive when everything else seems so dull. It has always seemed to me that a child can enter the room and like a spark in a dry, quiet forest, suddenly there is fire and excitement.
The small boy answered with the typical response – the dolphins. But he didn’t stop there, instead his breathing picked up, and as if he was aware of the time limit that his father’s business put on him, he stuttered in trying to tell more of his experience. His father began to walk out the door, and the boy turned to follow, as if he was attached by an invisible string. But as he did, his words trailed behind him and he hurriedly added, “And I almost got to touch a shark!”
I went back to my work, a smile on my face. The magic that he left behind had made the work I was doing, so mundane and tedious, seem a bit more bearable. Stuck there behind my desk in a quiet office, my summer outside the window passing quickly by. Time seemed to drift by me, each day running into the next, and at the end of each day, I was left feeling less fulfilled by life than the day before. Always, I was left wondering, is this all it is about?
One afternoon after work, as I was driving up the curving road to my house feeling depleted and a bit hopeless, I remembered that my son, Alex, had been complaining about working for his dad. Sixteen (almost seventeen) years old, he was tired of rising early and being the laborer for his father’s construction business. He felt his summer was passing him by. He knew that it wouldn’t be long till he was back in school tied to books and rules.
I knew my husband was counting on Alex’s help for the summer. And without the job, my son wouldn’t have the spending money he had been earning and would be left wandering about the house or running gas out of his truck for the rest of the summer. But part of me also felt that he was too young to be feeling that life was passing him by. I didn’t want Alex to fall into the pattern that most people do, working for money with no feeling of fulfillment. It’s that way of thinking that leads people into trying to buy happiness. I had told Alex that each day after work he needs to do something that makes him happy, something fun. My own words rang through me like a dinner bell, and I realized it was high time to follow my own advice. I couldn’t rise and “shine” any more just feeling like my whole purpose in life was to earn a paycheck. It didn’t matter what new thing I bought, the newness wore off, and I was still left chained to my job.
With a new determination, I have reminded myself that all work and no play not only makes Christine a dull girl, but practically non-existent. We all have a child inside us just dying to pet the sharks. Staying within the safe zone of our 8 to 5 jobs keeps our hands tied behind our backs, and the sharks bare their teeth, but we are unaffected by the excitement and life that they hold.
Alex has followed my advice well. Instead of plopping down in the recliner for the evening when he gets home, he finds new energy to take his dogs to the woods, drive to town and talk trucks with buddies, or go to the movies with the girl down the road. Work is still work to him, but knowing that when it is done, he will have the money and time to do the things he WANTS to do seems to have given him a new perspective.
I am following his lead. Just realizing what I had been doing, and now what I need to do, my mind is filled with things I can’t wait to do. There are stories to write, quilts to be quilted, and today, I am going to plant some flowers in celebration of life. When Monday morning comes, I am sure that I will have a new Christine to bring to the office. And I don’t think she will hear the ticking of the clock quite so loudly. I’ve remembered who I am and that my 8 to 4 job is just a way to pay the bills. It isn’t my life. It isn’t who I am!