“Children are not vessels to be filled, but candles to be lit.” – Greek Proverb
A sense of wonder is essential and can even be life-saving at times. It takes us out of ourselves, the trap of our narrow perspective and it allows us to marinate in the beauty that is around us. This is especially important for our spirits when beauty and love feel out of reach.
For children, wonderment and joy are natural states of being. It is so omnipresent and subtle at times that it is easy to overlook as adults.
A few weeks ago, there was a bout of unseasonably warm weather. It was the end of January and yet it was sunny and mid-fifties outside. My kids were ecstatic about getting out in the backyard. So we stayed outside for as long as we could. At one point my son (almost three) came to me and said,
“Mama, mama, come over here!”
He took my hand and led me under some arched branches of lilac bushes. I had to duck to avoid getting scratched. I started to resist a bit because the branches in my face were annoying. But then I looked at him. He had settled, leaning against the fence, framed in by the branches. He had a small grin on his face, like he knew something I didn’t. His hands rested against the fence behind him and his eyes sparkled when he looked up at me.
He had brought me to his magical place. So I followed. When I turned around and looked out at the yard, I felt it. It was cozy inside the branches. It felt safe and special – a little view of the yard that felt filled with beautiful mystery. I had never stood in this place in the backyard, in spite of having lived in this house for more than six years.
Beauty and mystery is all around us, waiting to be beheld. Children are like little ambassadors in these places. Think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Clara from The Nutcracker, and Alice in Wonderland. “Come,” they say. “Let me show you that the world is full of wonder. You have forgotten.”
We all have beauty to share.
At the center of wonder is a question. Why? It is the search for meaning. It is the acknowledgement that we may never receive a solid answer, but that’s no excuse to stop wondering.
The best way is always to start with ourselves. We cannot light another candle without our own fire. Let yourself wonder. Enjoy something beautiful every day; it can be something you see or something you feel. Make a note of it. Breathe it in.
Far more important are the wordless truths they
learn from you.
If you take delight in the ordinary wonders of
they will feel the depth of your pleasure and learn to
If you walk with them in the darkness of life’s
you will open the gate to understanding.
They will learn to see in the darkness
and not be afraid.
– William Martin from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching (pp. 1-2)
So, who’s lighting whose fire, here? You ask. And it’s a good question. We all have the capacity to behold beauty and wonder. It’s just easy to forget under the weights of everyday responsibilities. Children remind us. But sometimes we have to remind them, too. We all lose sight sometimes, and the simple act of being there for each other can be enough. Walking together, sharing our thoughts, pointing out things we see, holding each other, listening, eating a tub of ice cream together; these are beautiful little moments that we can have with each other. It’s so simple and yet so easily overlooked.
We do not need to be loud, to always make our kids laugh. We don’t always need to be ‘fun’ or always be strict. We need to allow ourselves to be present with our kids, to relish in their easy access to beauty and wonder, and to allow it to remind us of our own.
We must take turns reminding each other. Wonder is a little fire inside of ourselves and a big fire of society that we all contribute to. Being open to wonder, allowing ourselves to not have the answers, to be vulnerable and to celebrate beauty where we find it; these are gifts that all of us can give to our children and to our world.