I was walking through the park on the way to work this morning and I stopped to breathe in. The air I breathed wasn’t city air, the wind had carried from the country, clearing out the sweat of the past week, carrying with it the scent of nature.
I noticed it, sadly at the edge of my perception, right at the front of my nose, like a song with too much treble and not enough bass. I breathed in deeply, again and again, and felt that part of my olfactory system come alive, drinking in the verdant odour, causing my mind’s eye to see trees, to smell grass and flowers, to be fenced in with hedges, not buildings.
It made me realise that we spend so much time tuning things out, that we forget to tune in. Had I not stopped and breathed, opened that part of my senses, I wouldn’t have died. I wouldn’t even have noticed, which saddens me. We lose so much as we grow, teaching ourselves to ignore the stimuli that we deem less valuable, trying to focus on what we think is important.
I watch my kids and it makes me smile. They exhibit an unbridled passion for everything, a pair of golden retrievers in human form. Their experiences make them laugh and cry (and everything in between), often in the same moment. They are so open to their senses that they are truly alive. Does that mean as we grow and these senses dull that we are actually slowly dying?
There are many studies about happiness, attempts to measure the unmeasurable. I love the Mediterranean concept of multiple generations of the same family living together, the old fogies kept young by the antics of the grandkids, even great-grandkids. But we only take notice when the media report a lower rate of Alzheimer’s in those countries. The Dutch are jumping on the bandwagon with their nursery school/ old people’s home concept, and it’s working.
I hear parents talk about their kids’ schedules and shudder. OK, some of my distaste is that it highlights my parental laziness in not organising origami lessons in Mandarin, but mostly it is because the kids have no time to just play. Using their imagination not only keeps it alive, but makes it grow. Having complete intellectual freedom means they can wire their brain however they choose. If the Jesuits are correct, and our characters are already formed by the age of seven, then I’m going to let my boys play as much as they want.
And I’m going to join in. My writing career has coincided with my boys being around. Doctors will speak of synaptic pathways being fixed; brain motorways that are nigh on impossible to re-route, and yet kids do it all the time. It’s still possible for adults to do it, just a lot harder than when we were young. This ability to think laterally, getting from A to C via G and T, is key to creativity, be it in commerce, science or the arts. So I’m going to get down on my knees and play, in the hope that they won’t just keep me young, but help me remember what I have almost forgotten.
For the first time in a long time, I’m really enjoying what I do. And I might have my kids to thank for that.