As If It Were August

Dear Will:

I grew up in Redlands, California, in the sort of neighborhood you might not see these days anywhere outside of Leave It To Beaver. There were kids of every age up and down the street and around the corner. We spent our summers untethered, roaming the streets and yards and vacant lots with the freedom to go wherever our curiosity and imaginations might carry us.

A typical day in August started with obligatory chores, completed with a greater focus on speed than quality. Once released from our indentured servitude, we would head out to pick up wherever it was we left off the day before. We moved seamlessly from kick-the-can to Marco Polo to a game we called (quite accurately) Anythingball. We generally grabbed lunch at whichever house we found ourselves and then dashed off to The Big Tree or one of several secret forts where we would dream up mischief and new adventures.

In the midst of all of that fun, we fought—for sure—and argued every day, perhaps about the rules of this game or a bad call in that game. We would go from best friends to enemies to best friends again all over the course of a single afternoon. We played so hard that the smog would irritate our lungs and make it hard to breathe, but we were undaunted. It was summer, after all, and if we had hung around the house you can be sure that some grown-up would have found something “productive” for us to do.

We preferred to fill the time ourselves. We might grab a bat and a tennis ball and head for the nearby golf course to play work-ups in the fairway until the course marshal chased us off or until the daylight grew so dim we could no longer see the ball. Then perhaps we’d take up an all-neighborhood game of sardines that might have a dozen kids or more dangling from the branches of a single, teetering pine tree in somebody else’s yard. We invariably ended the day exhausted, with grass stains and scrapes, smelling like kids do when the fun has ended but the grins still remain.

Some days the fun ended earlier than others, but every day, from early morning till late afternoon or evening, my siblings and I played until our mother whistled us home. My mom had a shrill, powerful whistle that could be heard no matter where we were at any given moment. It was the two-finger dinner bell, the ultimate tweet, an ingeniously simple way for her to get all seven of us puppies back into the box.

In some respects, you and I and everyone are all still kids, doing the chores we have to but looking for energy and wonder to fill our days. There are, sometimes, injuries and hard feelings along the way, and occasionally we’ll be forced to make a midday run to the ER, but mostly what we’re hoping for is friendship and laughter. Joy. For all of the challenges and frustrations, the sadness and the heartache that may accompany our mortal existence, scripture tells us that joy is our ultimate purpose (2 Nephi 2:25)—it’s why we’re here. Sooner perhaps than most of us will like, the time will come when we’ll hear a distant whistle calling us home, but even then we’ll find family waiting for us there: Father and Mother and siblings. Joy beyond measure.

In the meantime, we should live each day as if it were August. Which, by the way, it is.

PW

Unscheduled Moments of Joy

Dear Will:

I’m doing math with my 9-year-old. I’m seated on her bedroom floor with my laptop while she slogs through several pages worth of multiplication problems. She has this math teacher who seems to believe that the best thing to do with children is to lock them in their rooms after school and only let them out to do chores and to eat an occasional bowl of gruel. Don’t misunderstand; my wife and I expect academic excellence from our children. But more and more these days we’re wondering where all the play time went.

Surely you remember play time. It was when you stopped worrying about lists and appointments and have-tos and simply indulged the moment’s current whim. It was a time in which you ran just for the fun of it, when you pretended to be someone and somewhere you were not. It was a period of exuberance and imagination and sheer joy. And in my case it stopped happening about 30 years ago.

Fortunately my 4-year-old does not have a preschool teacher who assigns homework. While Bryn and I are doing math, he’s in the bathtub surrounded by a menagerie of plastic animals, saving the “nice guys” from the “mean guys.” As is typical of kids his age, he directs the clashes with animated, pyrotechnic play-by-play. With Seth, bath time is almost a spectator sport.

In fact, I confess that I like to listen to his running commentary. I take great joy in his joy. Who doesn’t get a certain sort of primal delight hearing the unselfconsciousness of a small child? And now that I think of it, other experiences with my family can trigger a similar joyful sensation: walking the dog with my daughter, reading scriptures with my eldest son, looking at my wife from across a crowded room.

And perhaps that is ultimately what I should keep in mind as I long for younger, more carefree days. The deep-down feelings of love triggered by each day’s simple moments serve as a good reminder to me that although my days of unfettered fun have long since slipped away, ultimately “fun” is not really what this life is all about. The scripture tells us: “Men are, that they might have joy,” which is to say, fun is nice, but it’s transitory at best. Joy on the other hand has depth and longevity that make it an eternal emotion.

So how exactly do we find joy? I think it’s by filling our days with things that really matter, by getting through our lists and have-tos and still making time for unscheduled moments in which we connect with loved ones, give simple service to others, share a smile—even do a little math with a 9-year-old.

May you find such joyful moments each day—and if you can manage some fun along the way, all the better.

PW