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Wed, March 20

Column: Inner child keeps your spark alive

There is a little boy or little girl in each of us.

Even within those of us who regard ourselves as mature adults.

And although you and I will age, the boy and girl who lives within us doesn't. In my case, he flourishes and exults in a body that often aches and in a mind that sometimes despairs.

I was reminded of this recently when the boy in me reacted to the passing of Shirley Temple. They grew up together. Oh, he never met her, but he did the bunny hop with her after watching Shirley and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dance down a staircase in a movie. After that, he followed her life from a polite, respectful distance.

The boy exists in perpetual hope, with infinite patience for my stodgy, increasingly rigid ways, and with an ear cocked for whimsical wonder and the offbeat event. He is ever curious, always fascinated with rainbows and cumulus clouds, excited still by circuses and parades, especially those with bands in them.

No matter how drab and routine my world becomes, his never is. He thrives in a world that is alive, refreshing, invigorating and energized. He still smells the lilac bushes each spring, watches eagerly for blossoms to become flowers, lifts his face to the sun each hot, summer day, exults in the bright colors of fall, and watches impatiently each winter for the beauty and serenity of snow.

At times, I find him overpowering. His endless questions become fatiguing, his adventuresome spirit sometimes overwhelms my self-protective armor and I find myself peevish, cranky or downright irritable at his limitless, frantic energy.

Yet, deep down, I know I must be tolerant. He is but a boy. And if truth be told, I want him to remain so. He must not age as I do. For I am tired too often, slow to change, given to recalling memories rather than creating new ones.

No, I admire his youthful spirit. I respect his boyishness, his spunk.

And I find it remarkable that he continues to live such an exuberant life within me. Especially since he has been forced to respond to the shocks and tragedies and sadness that have been part of his life.

I remember well the first time the boy was confronted with realities that intruded upon his boyhood and awakened his thoughts and feelings that were adult-like.

It was Dec. 7, 1941. He was 10 years old. Pearl Harbor was attacked. The boy changed then. His world become different for the next four years or so. He thought he ­- and the world - would be better off if he were an adult. He decided his Cub Scout uniform wasn't the one he should be wearing.

The boy's next shock occurred in college when he discovered that cheating was the norm in the athletic department. His ideals about sports were challenged and altered irreparably.

His boyhood almost ended in Korea when he witnessed the starvation and death of children. He could barely cope with what he saw. He found evil to be an unyielding, uncaring reality and felt that such horrible suffering must be stopped. He called on his adult self - and found him powerless.

During the mid-'50s the boy was intrigued and ashamed of the tactics employed by Senator McCarthy and his followers. It was his first real exposure to politicians. He, who had been taught to hold his nation's leaders in high esteem, was disgusted by what he saw and read.

In 1964, the boy's world was shaken significantly when he confronted racial discrimination problems in Alabama when I taught at a Negro college. He watched our son and daughter play with black youngsters and wondered why different races couldn't get along as well as they did. While still naive and idealistic, the boy was learning about the appalling impacts of prejudice and bigotry.

1968 was a terrible year for the boy. Several of his heroes were murdered.

In the '70s, he watched a president resign in disgrace while his country was torn apart by the Vietnam war. The world was changing too rapidly for the boy. He was frightened. Grown-ups were fouling things up, he thought to himself.

"I used to think I was selfish," he told himself in the '80s. He realized his self-centered attitude as a youngster was not so bad by comparison. "Adults are worse," he concluded. In the nineties, the boy realized he had been witness to great change during his lifetime. But as boys tend to do, he transferred all the bad images and memories to his adult self who, with them on his shoulders and in his heart, aged. The boy was free to remain spirited and youthful.

He welcomed the new century and is, today, alive and well. And boyish! I do not want him to change, nor do I want to live without him. Yet, each year, I see less of him and more of myself. But when he emerges, I see that he is still the boy he used to be.

He is inevitably full of life. Every so often he will sneak up on me

and surprise me. I welcome his inexhaustible energy, his playfulness and indomitable spirit.

How fortunate I am to still live with him. He is, and always has been, a great companion.

Dr. Ron Barnes is a retired educator and businessman.


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