July 24, 1998

Double Mantra

The family of four had finished their afternoon at the pool and were sitting near me on the inn porch. I was reading my book and waiting for the approaching dinner hour. The two little girls pranced and shuffled in their brightly lit bathing suits. The smaller one, a pencil like creature in a two piece, sat down across from me and we began to chat.

“Do you know where I could get a pair of sandals like yours that would fit me?”

Her sandals were hot pink plastic with large daisy shaped fasteners. I love to ask children questions that are half serious and half stupid. She looked at me undecided about how to categorize me. Then she knew, smiled and began to explain why they were not the right sandals for me. I had hooked her.

We chatted about various silly things and I asked her if she was having fun on vacation. She nodded as she squirmed around in her wicker chair. Then her dad prompted her, “What do you always say?”

She stood up and looked me and said. “I love my life.” Again, with the feeling of exuberance that a five year old knows best, “I love my life.” And in case I had not heard, with eyes wide open, one more time she threw it to me, “I love my life.”

I caught it. I started to say, “Hey, you’re only five. You haven’t even been to school yet. Wait until you have to sit in a classroom for thirteen years in a row. Wait until your boyfriend dumps you. Wait until you know real pain.” But I bit my tongue. I stopped because I was wrong.

Her love of life was not about age. It was about attitude. Kids have pain. Kids hurt in a real way. And yet she had decided to love her life. I realized that I have never made that decision.

All of this brought back a story I had read several years ago by Rose Mary Dougherty, who is the director for Spiritual Guidance for the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, which is in the Washington, D.C., area. She wrote of a recurring dream in which she would seek out personal wisdom figures and ask them if she should enter religious life. She had entered religious life some thirty years before.

One night she had a dream that was different. She approached the same figures but she knew it was not right to ask them. She writes, “Then I saw a little boy, three or four years old, with large brown eyes. I asked him my question, ‘Do you think I should enter religious life?’ He looked at me with piercing, puzzled eyes. Finally he said. ‘Do you wanna?’ ” She continues, “In asking this, he had called me back to myself, had invited me to listen to my heart.”

“I love my life.” “Do you wanna?” These disparate threads, these voices of children, are woven together in my life right now, providing access to the heart. They provide a double mantra to help me move forward. They do not flow smoothly together off the tongue. Maybe they need to be reformed or melded. But for now I will let each stand alone. And I will listen.

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