Lucy made a new friend Sunday afternoon. By the time she and I went to a park near our house, it was late in the evening and most families were already leaving. But one little girl was running around by herself as her mother read a book on a bench.
“What’s your doggie’s name?” the girl asked shyly as we walked near them. I told her Lucy’s name and the girl was delighted.
“Lucy?!” she repeated with excitement. “That’s my name, too. She has my name. She’s just like me!”
The girl asked if she could pet Lucy. After we got her mother’s permission, I showed her how to approach Lucy and how to pet her gently. I explained that Lucy is scared of some people, but that she loves attention from kind people.
Lucy the girl sat on the grass in front of Lucy the dog and faced her. She gently stroked her furry neck and head. As she grew accustomed to her — and Lucy accepted her enough to lick her arm — the girl talked quietly to her, as she might to a best friend.
I held the leash and talked with the mother as our Lucys became friends.
The girl is 7 years old. Her mother told me she appreciated me taking the time to talk with her daughter, because life has been difficult for her lately.
The woman recently left her husband, Lucy’s father — who the woman said had been abusive to both of them. They had moved here from Ohio to get away from him. Her college roommate was from Birmingham and she offered to let them live with her family while the woman got her life together. So the two of them are living in a new city and are unsure about their future.
Lucy the girl soon had her arms around Lucy’s furry neck and she was laughing. My Lucy liked the attention and was gentle and accepting of the girl’s love.
The girl got onto her back and crawled under Lucy, rubbing the dog’s furry belly. Lucy loved that and dropped to her back next to the girl, exposing her belly for more rubbing. The girl laughed and sat up, then used both hands to rub all over Lucy’s underside. I’m not sure which one of them was the happiest.
As I watched the girl’s natural and loving way with Lucy, it reminded me again about how often children seem to have a natural and instinctive way of connecting with small delights — something which most of us seem to forget as we get older.
Something about the little girl’s natural enjoyment of this simple interaction reminded me of something I experienced with a neighbor’s son seven or eight years ago.
Late one afternoon, I found myself watching a little boy in my neighborhood running up and down the street in front of our houses trying to fly a kite. His name is Carter and his mother told me he bought the little kite at a yard sale for 50 cents. Sometimes he would get it way up into the air and other times it would crash quickly. But he always went right back to trying.
Everything about the experience was delightful for him. He was happy.
And when the kite was finally flying high, he turned to me and smiled broadly with a look of triumph.
“It’s up there with the birds!” he shouted with excitement.
I wish I still routinely felt the kind of joy that Carter showed through that big smile. It makes me want to find someone to fly kites with.
Late Sunday evening — after the two Lucys had played and the woman and I had talked for awhile — it was time for us to leave. The mother told us they’ve been coming to the park fairly often on the weekends, so maybe they’ll see us again. The girl begged me to bring Lucy back another time.
As we walked back toward the car, the girl surprised me by running after us one more time. She went to the ground and happily threw her arms around Lucy’s neck one more time.
“I love you, Lucy!” she cried out with pure joy.
I used to know how to be joyful and delighted by flying a simple kite. I used to know how to experience transcendent joy just from loving a dog. I used to know to be happy just from being alive.
There’s so much children can teach us. And I’m not the first one to notice this, of course.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Theologians and wise men have debated what this means for a couple thousand years. I can’t claim to be smarter than those people. But I suspect we’re somehow closer to what we were created to be when we’re most like loving children.
We need to joyously fly kites. We need to love dogs and make new friends. We need to be more like loving and innocent children — and less like the ego-driven and miserable people who our culture teaches us to be.