Sometimes a thought train follows me through a day. The other morning the folks at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford posted one of her quotes on Facebook that caught my attention:
I’d love to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young hearts to give you at once the key to that treasure chamber every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers.
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
(Letter to daughters, Eliza & Hattie, 1862)
It seems to express a wish that is common to all loving parents, to spare their children from learning things the hard way, to let their children benefit from the parent’s experiences. But parents somehow know that this is not always possible or even to be desired. Children will have their own struggles choosing paths to follow, finding their own adventures in the world. Some of the hard-won gems in our own hearts are simply non-transferable, being unique to our individual personalities and the way we have come to terms with life as we find it.
In the middle of the day, I found myself pulling out a well used book my grandparents gave me when I was very young, two and a half years old. Wondering what gems my maternal grandparents were hoping to give me… A love of poetry, certainly. When I graduated high school, they gave me Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I soon found myself photographing the words my grandmother left on the title page for me to treasure some future day, which has come. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne was my first volume of poetry.
Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Halfway up the stairs
And isn’t down.
It isn’t the nursery,
It isn’t the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
“It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else
~ A. A. Milne
(When We Were Very Young)
Well, I’m a sentimental sort, so I smiled at reading: “The beginning of a wonderful adventure – with Milne.”
Halfway Down was one of my favorites – how much I identified with that little person with all sorts of funny thoughts running round her head! When I was three years old we moved into the house my parents built themselves, and there was a staircase with a railing halfway up, open to the dining room. My sister and I were the youngest cousins on my father’s side of the family, and his relatives were a loud, boisterous and rather scary bunch, at least they seemed so to me, a frail sickly sensitive little girl, small for my age. Since relatives were packed into all the bedrooms for the duration there was no place for me to escape the over-stimulation! During their visits I sat on that halfway down stair for hours on end, except when required to eat or go to bed. I could lean back and hide behind the wall or lean forward and “spy” on the activities through the railing. On that stair, sometimes reading a book, I could “be” somewhere else instead.
By the time it came to start cooking dinner I was humming a Cat Stevens song from my teen years… Oh Very Young. Hmm — it would seem the day had a theme. There are days when I wonder what gems my grandparents would try to give me now, at this juncture in my life, if they could. Mid-life is kind of like that halfway down stair. I’m not old and I’m not young. I suspect there is no other stair in life, up or down from here, quite like it. A chance to stop and be anywhere, or somewhere else instead… Fading up to the sky like a pair of favorite old blue jeans…
Oh very young,
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans
Denim Blue fading up to the sky
And though you want them to last forever
You know they never will – you know they never will
And the patches make the goodbye harder still