all of the selves we Have ever been
They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot…
They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…
As I pulled into the parking lot of a large local shopping center, an earworm wriggled to life inside my head: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” an old Joni Mitchell hit. I smiled to myself at the memory and the words, and I thought it might be time to hit the pavement at my favorite tree museum, The Franklin Park Conservatory.
I went into Staples and purchased ink cartridges for my home printer. Finished with the errand, I stepped to the automatic exit doors. As they slid open, I heard it.
Like a graceful flock of birds, the notes rose on the air and danced in the twinkling and brilliant sunlight of an unseasonably warm winter day. I was propelled in the direction of the sound and the light. Somewhere nearby, a violin played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The music was so moving that I felt the urge to both weep and dance at the same time. I was not alone in this. At that very moment, the doors of Target slid open and a tiny preschooler stepped onto the sidewalk and immediately froze in his tracks. His mother tugged on his arm, but he was there to stay, eyes wide and pointed in the direction of the music. Surely, the child saw it for the wonder that it was.
We both stared at a man standing next to a portable speaker. We watched as he swayed and slid the slender bow across the strings of his violin. The instrument’s case lay open beneath a sign sharing news of the man’s financial hardships--his need to pay his rent and support two children. As I dug deep inside my purse for cash, I heard a couple walking by saying it was probably a scam.
I was taken aback by the irony of the situation: people flocking to this shopping center to purchase without question food, pharmaceuticals, and other merchandise from companies that overcharge us, produce products that harm us, and create waste that destroys our environment, yet this gentle man producing beautiful music was suspect. His performance was just too foreign in this land of parking lots, boutiques, pink hotels, and swinging hot spots. In the beauty of the moment, I pledged my allegiance to the wide-eyed child still capable of trust and wonder. I took what cash I had and dropped the folded bills into the open violin case. “The world needs more music,” I said. The violinist nodded his thanks and continued to play.
Filled with anticipation each time I step out onto a parking lot, I bring cash…and I listen. I hope to hear the stop-you-in-your-tracks sounds of that magic violin. Though I wish him well and that all of his needs will be met, I pray this street musician never stops playing. The world needs more music and a little bit of paradise in every paved parking lot.
I am a fool for wonder and for whimsy. Such a combination makes my class of people preschoolers.
Weary from news of war and winter winds, I am hungry for my people. I stop at a small park and sit down on a bench. It feels good to be out in the cool, fresh air taking in the sunshine and the sounds of happy children.
I soon spot a preschooler wearing a knit cap and matching puffy jacket. He looks like a small, silvery cloud with knees. I study him from afar as he studies the world up close. This tiny scientist trains his eyes on the spot where a bug disappeared into the loose black soil. He crouches down so low that his long dark eyelashes nearly brush the ground. He holds this posture like a statue. My own knees begin to ache. I wonder if the child is breathing. “Where did it go?” Before his mother can answer, the boy spots a bright red cardinal on a stone ledge and chases the bird until it fades into the sky. “Does that bird live in heaven?” And it is on to the next thing. The child starts down a gentle slope toward the slide and swings. Letting the momentum carry him, he falls to the ground and rolls. He squeals with delight further encouraging the invisible force. “The grass is tickling me!” And I laugh as the shared momentum carries me into the moment and tickles me too.
Next, the boy busies himself gathering small stones and lining them up on a bench. He talks to himself and to the stones. He gives each one a name. The budding geologist keeps at it until he hears the honk of a goose that has waddled out of a large puddle. The child honks back, and asks his mother, “What did the goose say to me?” He imitates the goosey waddle until he loses sight of the bird in the bright sunshine. I hear him ask, “Why does the sun hurt my eyes?”
The child goes from awed silence to incessant chatter, stillness to fast forward, whatever the wonder calls for, his body responds and his eager mind forms a question. He does not fear looking foolish, getting dirty, or running late. Those are the concerns of adults on a schedule who have stricken time to wonder from their personal to-do lists.
The boy does not pause to anticipate the dangers—the sting of a bee or the brush of poison ivy against his skin. His mother is there. With her eyes ten steps ahead, her body is one step behind. Like the captain of an ancient seafaring vessel headed for a new world, she is constantly scanning the horizon for dragons and the air waves for the siren’s call. A good parent, she lovingly presses on making the world safe for her child’s wonder.
The tot continues to explore and to marvel until both he and his mother are tired. He reaches up for her, and she lifts him into her arms. They go to their car. I give up my front row seat to all of this wonder and go to my car too. I am not tired. I am refreshed. It has been wonderful!