Because you don't have to be old to know how to live
The Four Things You Need to Know to Know Enough
My sweet, imaginative, energetic 5-year-old friend, Elizabeth, has it all figured out. Just the other day, she told me the four things she needs to know in order to grow up. If she knew these things, she’d know “enough.”
“So what things do you really need to learn, Elizabeth?”
“Well, first of all, SWIMMING.”
I’d agree with her one-hundred percent, as would my dad. Daddy always told his daughters that we had to be able to do three activities, and his first requirement was that we knew how to swim. (The other two were driving and typing.) Of course, he wanted to be sure that none of his girls would ever drown, but more than that, he wanted us to enjoy water.
So if Elizabeth’s “first thing” was the same as Daddy’s, I knew she was on to something. I found it fascinating that an almost-5-year-old child, who freely admits that she doesn’t really like getting her face wet because it tickles, and an almost 75 year-old-coot, (my dad’s own language, not mine) who has swum across the Ohio River on several occasions, both put swimming as the first requirement of things you need to know.
Both ends of the age spectrum, from the sweet young child to the gray-headed codger, are absolutely right. Not only might I have drowned if I hadn’t learned to swim, but I would have lost the many, many hours of pleasure of being effortlessly buoyed up by a force much greater than me.
The second thing
As she came closer to me, Elizabeth’s sing-song girl’s voice, that energetic inflection, the pauses between words, reminded me of a time long ago when my own daughters were young, before the teenage years, when they actually enjoyed talking to me.
Before I could remember what nuggets of wisdom they had imparted to me, my nostalgia was broken and Elizabeth was continuing on with her list.
“And then, of course, I need to learn how to COOK.”
Her next, matter-of-fact pronouncement, made me smile. I echoed a whole-hearted “Amen,” followed by the thought that Elizabeth’s list was certainly not gender-specific. If eating is essential, then cooking is tantamount. Once cooking is mastered, the world of food increases exponentially beyond Easy-Mac, microwave dinners, and fast-food-carry-out options. If “you are what you eat,” then cooking is certainly important.
On to the third on Elizabeth's list
Earnestly she leaned toward me, lips pursed. She had my complete, undivided attention.
“Reading. By myself.”
“Yes, yes, oh, yes!” I gasped.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing when simple wisdom spews straight out of the mouth of babes? So far, Elizabeth, a child decades younger than I am, had accurately and succinctly outlined the requirements of what I know I need to live well. Swimming. Cooking. Reading.
Reading, for me, is one of life’s simple pleasures. (Okay. Eating is right up there with reading, and nothing beats swimming on a hot summer day, but still….) What greater joy could there be than to escape to other lands, to know powerful people, to be witness to the greatest events of history, to learn about the world, all because you can read to yourself?
Elizabeth’s big eyes were aglow and the dimple on her chin was a second smile.
I was on the edge of my seat waiting.
“I need to learn what I should and shouldn’t do.”
It all sounded so simple. So absolutely right. It sounded as if what Elizabeth needed to know at the age of five is exactly what we all need to know.
Lately, in the face of major life changes, in the awareness that sometimes life is painfully short, in the recognition that I don’t know nearly enough about how to handle difficulties, I’ve been thinking about Elizabeth’s strategy for growing up. She might have a better plan than my long list of “things to do before I die,” a list that includes milking a cow, touring the Great Pyramids of Egypt, hiking down the Grand Canyon, and publishing a book.
This child, this wealth of knowledge, this treasure of joy and simplicity, is right. If we learn to entertain and strengthen ourselves (swimming), if we learn to be self-sufficient, (cooking), if we become educated (reading), and if we learn to be good, kind, and moral (discerning what’s right and what what’s wrong,) surely, we’ll know “enough.”
And when, at the end of my life, even if I haven’t traveled the world or experienced great adventures, I hope I will have enjoyed swimming in a certain deep spot in a lovely country creek. I hope I will have learned how to cook and share good food and fellowship with the people I love most. I hope that I will have learned something about life from reading everything I could get my hands on. Most importantly, when I’m dying, I hope I will have learned what I should and shouldn’t do, for that is how I’ll know if I’ve lived well.
One more thing
But along with mastering the four items on Elizabeth’s list, there’s one more thing I need to learn before I know “enough.”
How to listen to children.
Sometimes they really know what they’re talking about.
Sometimes, they’re way smarter than I am.