Life trophies.

It’s 3:30am and I’m wide awake.  I’ve been thinking about a lot of things tonight.  I’m not in the best of spirits, and what does any human being do when they’re down?  They think of things that remind us that we do good every now and again.

The one that I’m thinking of right now was from Camp Quest Ohio this summer.  One of the 8-9 year old boys came in second place during one of the competitions and immediately went into hysterics.  I got pulled over to him about 15 minutes later when he was banging his head into the wall.

I went over and grabbed his hand and took him out of immediate sight and asked him what his poor head did to deserve the beating.  He told me if he kept losing, he’d never win the Super Bowl trophy.  He went on to tell me that it weighed 200 lbs. and showed me, with his hands, how big it was.

I explained to him that other people’s goals don’t need to be ours.  I knew that this particular boy was really into video games, so to illustrate my point I asked him which he’d rather have: a Super Bowl trophy or Grand Theft Auto V (which is due to release in the fall).  He shrugged sheepishly, and I gave him a look of utter incredulity and said, “Really?  For real, which would you rather have: a trophy this big or the chance to play GTA5 a few months early?”

He smiled for the first time since losing the match earlier and admitted he’d rather have the video game.

I took the opportunity to point out that the football players would much rather have the trophy.  They work their whole life for that trophy.  That’s just what’s important to them.  I told him that he needed to figure out what mattered to him.  Every example he gave boiled down to being happy, and I pointed that out.  I then asked him if winning was important because it made him happy?  He said it was.

I then asked if it would make sense to be happy just playing and doing your best, win or lose, because then you get to be happy every time you play.  ”

“Couldn’t playing for the sake of having fun by competing be what’s important to you?”

He nodded, smiled, and I threw him up over my shoulders and carted him in to eat lunch with the rest of the campers.

Maybe, in this case, I just got in after he’d had 15 minutes to calm down.  But whether it’s a magic trick or putting it in terms they can get, I’ve always been good with kids. Mom and dad remind me of this every time I’m around them.  Michelyn still hasn’t let me forget that her cousin niece asks where I am whenever Michaelyn shows up to visit.

Kids can tell when an adult is thinking they’re above the kid’s struggles.  They know when an adult is being sincere, and for all my other flaws, sincerity is one I’ve got down.  That’s what makes you a child at heart, I think.  There’s no pretension when a child wants to play on your team, or hugs you, or otherwise demonstrates their affection.  There is no ulterior motive.  That’s as pure as love can be expressed, I think.

The world of adults is riddled with past hurts that color our trust of others in greys and black, and most of us learn shortly after the birds and the bees talk that sincerity in the real world, whether the expression of our own or trusting sincerity in others, can have consequences.  Most of us realize that other adults are not always trustworthy, and so , to protect ourselves, we too abandon the instinct to be sincere.  Lots learn to fake it.  But when you can talk to a child as an equal and mean it, they know, and it makes all the difference in the world.  In my eyes, that’s what it means to never grow old, no matter how educated or responsible you get.

I have a lot of flaws I’m working on.  Don’t we all, right?  But regardless of those flaws and no matter what good or bad happens in my life, no matter what I lose, I have a long life ahead of me.  And moments like that, of using what gifts I lucked into, to not only make a child happy but to communicate a lesson that has a chance to stick, those moments are what’s important.  No matter what, I have many years ahead of me where more instances can occur where I can make use of the things at which I am good.  No possession, no security can ever mean more than positively influencing the life of a child in your own, unique way.

I hope the camper learned something valuable that day about himself.  I learned something very valuable about myself from talking with him.  And I wish I could tell him that when I’m down in the dumps, remembering that exchange cheers me up and reminds me what trophies I need to be working for.

It’s like dad always said: adults don’t make children – children make adults.

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