This past week, I attended Catholic Heart Work Camp for my third year. This year, like the past two years, I had a great time serving the less fortunate in my community and getting closer to God in the process. You may have already read previous blogs that described my past experiences with the camp, such as “The Last Time I Cried” and “From Turtle to Rabbit”. I always find something or someone that inspires me throughout the week and have something blog-worthy to write once I arrive home. This year was a little harder to come up with a theme for a blog, but I believe I have a good idea.
I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of new people over the week. The camp consisted of 250 people, 20 of which were from Davison. The rest were complete strangers. The people in my small group that worked on the same project were all from different states. But no one from all the new people I met really stood out as much as 4-year old, Nicaea.
The family whose house we renovated consisted of two grandparents and their six grandchildren. Throughout most of the week, the children stayed inside and waved, but never came outside to visit us. Finally, on the last day, two of the little girls came outside to bond with us. They started out by timidly accepting the snacks we were offering them as we took our lunch break. We asked them some questions about Spongebob and Nemo and they slowly became more comfortable. At the end of the meal, Nicaea attempted to read our closing prayer from our prayer sheet with help from our Prayer leader. It was slow going, but she did great and we all applauded her at the end. Soon after, we were back to work and Nicaea and her sister helped us plant flowers.
After I dug a small hole, Nicaea would set the plant down inside it and help pack dirt around it. This went on for a while and soon all of the plants were in the ground. Now Nicaea, being a 4 year-old, had a pretty short attention span and a pretty large imagination. So when she got bored, she would dig in the dirt looking for rocks. Whenever she found a large rock, she would get excited and show me. She would say “Let’s plant this one”. So I would dig a hole off to the side, she would set the rock in the hole, and we would pack the dirt on top of it. After about four rocks were planted, I began to ask, “What color will the flower be when the rock starts to grow?” After a few seconds to think about it, she replied “Purple”. This went on for several more rocks and apparently, there will be a yellow, a pink, and a blue flower where those other rocks were planted. I thought her answers were adorable and my team laughed as the funny conversations continued.
I am not around little kids often, but every time I am, they never cease to amaze me. Other than the crying, screaming, constant need for undivided attention, and being hyper, they’re pretty cool. And as I talked to Nicaea, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a short video we had watched earlier that week. At work camp, you go back to the church after your day of work and they have a program which consists of playing videos, a live band performs, and there’s some time for praise and worship. One of the videos at the beginning of the week talked about being a little kid. I wish I could find it to remember exactly how it went, but I will do my best to describe what it talked about.
The video described how we lose hope along the way of life. When we are young, we have a great imagination. Reality is meaningless to a child. Kids want to be a professional athlete, a doctor, an actress. They usually have a generally high self-esteem and a positive outlook on life. Then, life happens. As a kid grows up, they realize they are not good enough to play sports at a professional level. They find out they can’t afford to go to a good medical college. They convince themselves they’re not pretty enough or talented enough to be a movie star. Their self-esteem drops when they realize they don’t fit-in anymore. They lose hope.
In some ways, these roadblocks are inevitable. The odds of becoming a professional athlete are not favorable. No matter how much hope you have, you will not make the team if you can’t play better than the people you’re up against. When you’re a kid, not many people tell you you can’t do something that you want to. No one ever tells a kid “No, you don’t want to become an astronaut, there’s no way you’d get selected. Stick to plumbing.” I didn’t dare explain to Nicaea that a rock dug into the ground would not eventually grow into a purple flower. We say these things because we don’t want kids to ever lose hope or to face reality yet. We let them enjoy their innocent lives where there are no troubles while they still can.
Eventually, they figure things out for themselves or others figure them out for them. They soon realize things are not how they once appeared and everything is more complex than they imagined. Major events take place and a person either grows from it or lets it devour their life. Wisdom is gained or hope is lost. “Apparent freedom” is replaced with “structure”. Imagination slowly drains away to reality. They grow up and have no choice but to suck it up and deal with it.
This is not to say that growing up is all bad. There are more freedoms, more opportunities, etc. But when we are forced to mature and take on more responsibilities, we tend to lose the imagination and the overall sense of joy that little kids tend to possess. Now, there are people I know who are grown-ups that are still very imaginative and joyous. They chose to not let life get to them. They did not lose hope as they grew up and kept a good attitude. That’s not to say they probably faced bad times or experienced harsh reality-checks. But they grew from their experiences, they moved on, and they gained wisdom. They still have the little-kid feeling in them and they enjoy their lives.
I hope this story is a reminder to you that it’s important to stay young at heart. When life happens, don’t lose hope. Stay a little kid at heart, and you’ll find life is much more enjoyable to live. George Bernard Shaw says it best with this quote: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Thank you, Nicaea, for reminding me how important it is to stay young at heart.