Not long ago, a reader of this blog told me, “I want to be you when I grow up.” This was in response to a post I wrote about an interesting experience I had exploring ruins in a less-visited corner of Yucatán.
My thought after reading this and some other similar remarks was, "All I really am doing is the kind of stuff I dreamed about doing when I was a kid." I've realized it's not about "growing up." In fact, just the opposite. It's about throwing off the weight of inhibitions and expectations society places upon us as we mature. It's about going back to the sense of fun, discovery and adventure in daily living that we had as kids.
Children live in the moment. Relationships are incredibly important. They don't search fruitlessly for fulfillment in the accumulation of status or possessions. They give little thought to others' opinions about what they are doing. And primarily for these reasons, kids live more intensely and have a lot more fun than adults.
These thoughts returned to me recently. I sat, half dozing, aboard the Alaska State Ferry Fairweather, sailing from Sitka to Juneau, when suddenly the vessel’s horn blew. The weather was calm and the trip uneventful. Thinking that there must be another vessel or an obstacle ahead made me curious, so I got up and walked to a forward window to see what was happening. Another passenger, who’d moved to the window at the same moment, stood briefly by my side. We gazed together into the distance. There was nothing visible. We looked at each other, both shrugged, and went back to our seats.
A few minutes later the other passenger came up to me, smiling. He’d talked to a crew member. “A little girl wanted to blow the ship’s horn, so the captain let her do it,” he explained.
Immediately I remembered an occasion some years back when I was in Skagway, Alaska, shooting footage for a video production aboard a working steam locomotive of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. After I had finished, impulsively I asked the engineer if I could toot the whistle. He laughed, gestured to the handle, and said, "be my guest." For a moment I again was a kid of five scooting along the floor in a cardboard-box locomotive, wearing a blue-and-white-pinstripe "engineer" hat and hollering "Woooo-oo-WOOOOOOO."
It was a childhood fantasy fulfilled, and probably the experience that first prompted me to think about the virtues of acting less like an adult and more like a kid.
Looking back at the most engaging activities I have been involved with in my life, it occurs to me that many of these are exactly the things I most wanted to do at the age of eight or ten. Unfortunately when we hit our teen years we often get distracted from these childhood passions as social pressure and then school, family responsibilities and having a job further distance us from the things that really toot our horn, so to speak.
I think that we can enjoy life more and find more meaning when we decide stop acting so grown up, and feel freer to live out our dreams. I guess I will never be an astronaut, but I have managed to incorporate several of my other childhood passions into my life. And equally important, I think that the process has helped me recover a little of the childish sense of wonder and adventure that makes even the mundane and everyday seem worthwhile.