Living in the Wonder, artist Lori Portka
Lori painted Susan
I am on the playground with preschool children. It is late spring (2005). A week of rain makes the grass thickly lush. I check for puddles, mainly muddy ones, and discover it’s dry enough to play outside. I wave to my team teacher to let her know.
We can play outside! She offers encouragement as the children pass through the classroom door to the sunshine.
“Use your running skills.”
“Give your play 100%.”
“Balance with full attention.”
“Yell as loud as you want.”
“Use your bird-watching skills.”
“Rake with joyful rhythm.”
“Let your eyes chase the clouds.”
“Jump your highest.”
“Practice your friendship skills.”
She gives as many affirmations as there are children.
They walk on a sidewalk adjacent to a large asphalted space reserved for bouncing balls, jump rope, chalk-drawing, and bike riding before they reach the grass. When they reach the grass, they run.
They run with abandon. Their faces have in-the-moment, whimsical expressions.
Some children run straight at me and hug my legs.
Deena says to some of the younger kids, “Let’s be a family. Do you want to go to the grocery store?” They pretend they have grocery carts and gallop to a maple tree, which she’s designated as the store.
Max holds a soccer ball while running to the soccer field and invites, “Who wants to be a goalie?”
Anna and Brenna hold hands, “Brenna, do you want to chase me?” and Brenna does. Off they run!
I notice Safia. She raises her arms above her head, and quickly flings them down, hands on the grass as her legs fly up in a handstand. She does this again and again, pausing briefly to look up and spin a half circle before repeating the process. I watch her smile. I think about how I spend time early in the morning training my mind to be present to life like Safia's expressions. Her delight brings me happiness.
Deena, Max, Anna, Brenna. They are smiling and happy.
After watching the children, I let their smiles turn the edges of my mouth up slightly. This relaxes the over 300 muscles in my face. I soften and feel myself take a deep breath.
I recall Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay's) words, “Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile (Peace is Every Step, 6).”
Children have a breadth of experience on the playground, a place where they practice relating to what's before them. Children also sometimes argue, cry, fight, and express feelings. I notice how attentive they are to these experiences as well. Curious and attentive. And, curiosity is a gradual walk toward wonder.