Rainbows

Two young girls are playing in the yard. One is full of zest, and expending enough energy to worry OPEC; the other is younger and quieter, more spectator than participant. Their mother watches from the kitchen window as she talks on the phone. The quieter one finds a feather dropped from a startled blue-jay, and runs to show her mother.

''Yes, yes, honey, that's nice, but Mommy's on the phone right now. Save it and I'll look at it later.''

The child, disappointed, returns to watch her sister play, but cries out, ''I want somebody to hug me. I want somebody to hug me.''

''We don't have time for that now.'' says her older sibling, hanging upside down in the apple tree.

The mother ends her conversation and hangs up the phone. She goes out to the yard, and bends her knees to the height of her small daughter. ''Now, where is that beautiful feather you found?''

The child holds the feather up to the light, twisting it between her fingers, and they watch the color of oils radiate through the fronds. The mother looks from the feather to the face of the child, and sees the wonder in each, her eyes catching fresh colors in the tears that form.

As she recounted this episode to me later, I asked her what it was that made her change her mind - to give her attention to the child. Her response startled me, setting off in me my own arc of colors.

''The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you do the work.''

Children expect us to show them the best of our worlds, and the child in us sees what we want to show them. In their love and their dependence upon us both for their care and for their happiness, we are repaid by the simple joys that we find in children and their endeavour to understand. The relationship between adult and child, parent and offspring, is not a one-way street. All that I know about children I have learned from them.

It would be easy to say I have recaptured my childhood from my own children. But it goes much further than that. Linking the individuality of children, are moments common to all of them. They are moments of wonder, insight, awe and amazement at the world in which we all are growing and expanding. We tend to think these moments disappear as we grow older. We cover ourselves with the layers of characteristics we feel must accompany the coming of adulthood. And layer upon layer, we bury those rainbows deeper and deeper until, because we no longer see them, or feel the colors, we dismiss them as unimportant, or worse - as nonexistent.

Of course, they do not exist as concrete entities, for rainbows are the products of very special conditions. What we see is the reflection and refraction of light, rather than the light itself. At any moment, that special condition may appear, and we should always try to be ready for it. Those bright moments come in a blaze of glory, magnificent, full of the power of the moment, and we owe it to that moment to bring it to the child, and to ourselves.

The layers of adulthood in which we blanket ourselves need to be peeled away to re-enlighten us on the joys of looking at something for the first time, perhaps in a very primitive way - the way a child does.

It is always possible to take something a step further. This is the appeal of the child-mind: often not satisfied with a single answer. Children see the world in a rock, the universe in a bird's feather. Now and again, they need a little assistance over a question to enable them to explore further their world and our universe.

Whatever we may be doing - those necessary duties of our maturity, our adult responsibility - they can wait. What is more important than giving to a child, or even to another adult, something that we see in a very special way, unique and totally different from any way that it's ever been seen before?

All of us have benefited in some way from a special discovery. We have felt rewarded by someone's very own, special rainbow. No one sees any color in exactly the same way as another. The colors are indeed in us, and their varied hues and tones are as unique as our own individualities.

Perhaps we have spent far too much effort telling children and showing them how to be responsible adults. Perhaps when they fail to do it, we have failed to show them first of all how to be children. We seem to have grown ashamed of child-like qualities in little people, relegating those to Saturday morning television cartoons, more complicated toys, and child fashion models. We seem to want our children to grow up as quickly as possible, before anyone notices that they are children.

And often, all we have to do is show them the rainbow. It has seldom required explaining. Children of any age have their own built-in interpretation for almost anything they percieve.

There are no fixed and singular rainbows. But we can tell our children how we see, and how we feel about, rainbows. The work will always wait. And if there is magic in our telling, if there is wonder, and if there is love, they will add their colors to ours.

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