Dear Jean: Water and Innocence

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The Alberta Provincial Legislature Grounds, Erin R. Thomas, 2017

Dear Jean,

It’s been an age since I’ve written to you. I’ve been remiss. I listen to your talks and read your books, and I would love one day to meet you. I’m sure enough pilgrims wander towards L’Arche already, however, that you likely don’t need this reluctant mystic tugging at your sleeve. Still, I wanted to offer up an experience I had last night that transformed my own world a little bit, even as it was transformative for the whole world.

I was walking what had become my usual loop around Edmonton’s River Valley, up to Alberta’s Provincial Legislature grounds, and towards one of its smaller wading pools so I could rest my hot feet in the cool water. As I approached the steps and waterfalls, I noticed something that caused me pause:

Four grown men splashing in the pool, laughing, and playing.

That’s right: playing.

I’ll confess I was immediately on guard. As a woman, I’ve been conditioned to be suspicious of playful men, especially when they’re playing around in groups. Should they prove to be unfriendly, there’s no way I could possibly hope to fight them all off. And why, pray tell, were these MEN playing around in a pool used mostly by CHILDREN?

Those were my first thoughts. Measures of safety versus threat.

Yet something was out of sync with my conditioned response: these men were genuinely playing. I couldn’t understand it. There was an innocence here that I would not expect in a group of men in their late twenties/early thirties. As I sat down and released my feet into the water, I took a second look. Two of the men were acting like children in the truest sense of the word: holding their hands into the waterfall, holding their arms close to their sides as if scared of going deeper into the pool, clapping with what seemed like delight when the other two men splashed each other.

Their innocence helped me see with new eyes.

I was watching two adult men with the capacities of children along with their companions or supervisors or house mates.

I was both ashamed of and compassionate towards my first impulse. There are times in my life when I need to be on guard around men. As a woman, it’s still a sad reality for me and most females. However, as I watched the watery scene splash before me, I realized that I was in the presence of purity, innocence, delight, and honour.

Yes, honour.

I have seen many ‘workers’ who come alongside people who are differently abled than myself who are impatient, bored, tired, off on their cell phones, or have little interest in the people they are supposedly in community with. Yet tonight, I saw two grown men join in with their charges with the same gusto. They splashed their charges playfully and gently; they splashed each other and laughed; the offered gentle hugs; held hands; and played hide’n’seek.

That was the most wondrous moment for me.

One of the men hid managed to hide behind the small waterfall, laughing that his worker couldn’t see him. His worker played right along, pretending to try and grab the man through the water, and the man behind the water laughed and laughed and laughed. It was such a huge delight for them both to be able to play freely, openly, and honestly. Men don’t play like this, do they? Men haven’t been taught they are allowed to play like this…have they?

When did I become so protective and cynical?

It was a hot day yesterday, so naturally many people drifted towards the Legislature grounds’ wading pools. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if I wandered there at just such a times to witness the play of four grownup men. Until I saw it, I didn’t know just how much I needed to see it.

I saw the giving and receiving of gifts: the gifts of laughter, of play, of respect, of childlikeness, of celebration, of openness, and unashamedness, and of time. The two childlike men clapped and laughed, splashed and laughed some more. The two workers, to me, saw the humanity in their charges and were able to respond to the divine love in them. The childlike men weren’t just jobs, they weren’t just ‘cases’ to be worked. They were people. Humans created in a divine image.

And this honouring of the divine came out in the form of uninhibited play.

Once I whispered the word uninhibited, I realized I was smiling. Their gifts to each other were resonating not only with me, but with every other person splashing around in that pool. As they began to get out and dry off, one man stood facing the waterfall, arms outspread, and jumped up and down in the water simply delighting in the spray, the setting sun, and the entire experience. He was wholly joyous and wholly present.

Once they left that part of the pool, a small child ran in and stood facing the waterfall, arms outspread, and jumped up and down in the water simply delighting in the spray, the setting sun, and the entire experience. She was wholly joyous and wholly present.

To whomever these people are, I thank you. Your gifts of celebration of one another in freedom and play released me to see with new eyes. What better gift could be offered? What better gift could I learn to receive?

Until next time, Jean,

Erin

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