When you're young, life is inexplicably original. Every breath is invigorating and blameless. Cynicism and monotony haven't clouded opinions or perspective. You're busy learning to crawl or run or splash if there's an ocean within reach--or the joy of a puddle if there's no sea. And as each new day springs forth from another, the awakening begins. Behind the eyes of a child is, perhaps, the key to our own fountain of youth. The promise of simplicity. The hope of another matchlessly brilliant day. The dream that, aside from the mortgage and the infirmity and the decisions and the sorrow, we will leave a fingerprint on that small heart--a mark that will somehow allow it to remain pure, amazed, unscathed, even as wisdom dawns.
Today my son, 337 days old and counting, experienced the Wild Animal Park. It was the first time his eyes scanned the world and landed on a giraffe. The first time he caught glimpse of a lorikeet and a gorilla and a meerkat. The first time he pet a deer. The first time he played in the Savannah Cool Zone with children three times his size. The first time he came within three inches of a lion--albeit separated by a plate of glass.
Garrett is terrified by hats. Not all hats, mind you, baseball caps are fine. But he is definitely scared of straw hats and safari hats. This is a bizarre phenomenon we can't explain because otherwise, he is fearless. He held his hand up to the glass and giggled as the lioness paced by. He reached out and grabbed the lorikeet and didn't flinch when it nipped at his finger. He let a goose eat out of the palm of his hand. He took a much larger knee to the head in the Savannah Cool Zone and shook it off like a big boy.
I love this child. My heart fills with adoration as I watch him choose fistfuls of dirt over chasing animals in the petting zoo. I smile with joy when he pets the deer and declares, "dog." For it isn't in the correctness of vocabulary that I am amazed but rather the fact that he has any vocabulary at all--last June what impressed me most about my child was hearing his heartbeat on the fetal monitor. That he says the word dog at all is astonishing.
Behind my own eyes I feel a dawning of truth. In Garrett, truly there is a fountain of youth. Not my own to embrace and relish but a youth reborn, passed from me to him in irrevocable finality. Never can I see a giraffe for the first time--and now, neither can he--but oh the wonder at what he has not yet seen, not yet learned, not yet dreamed or achieved. I will watch with pride as his eyes awaken. But I will endeavor, with all the simplicity of my own youth, to leave my fingerprint on that tiny heart.