What was there to be blas'e about?

THE great thing about spending time with a two-year-old is that you get the benefit of the youngster's wisdom, wisdom acquired not from an accumulation of experience but from a lack of it. When my little niece, Charlotte, came to stay for a weekend, I was expecting a repeat of the wordless, yet highly vocal, messages she had so effectively conveyed in her previous visit, basic messages like: ``Feed me or I'll cry.'' ``Pick me up or I'll cry.'' And the ever popular, ``I'm tired of crying, and all my crying is making me cry.''

But Charlotte was a two-year-old now. In the time between visits she had learned words -- at least 10 or 15 of them -- and now clearly considered herself an erudite individual making serious inroads into understanding the adults' world (though she probably should learn a few dozen more words before she tries running for public office).

Not only was she assimilating those terms that kept issuing from the mouths of grown-ups, but on occasion she was making up her own. Upon my discovering this of Charlotte, I learned a lesson of sorts from her.

We had just left the front door to go for a walk when she suddenly gasped, pointed skyward, and yelled, ``Beegah! Beegah!'' I looked, saw that she was reacting to a passing aircraft, and was about to say, ``What's all the fuss? It's just a jet.'' But she was insistent: ``Beegah! Beegah!'' So I took a harder look. Here this huge, streamlined mass of metal was hurtling through the air above us, making thunderous noise, and leaving long trails of white smoke in its wake. What was there to be blas'e about? To tell her this was ``just a jet'' was to foist my dulled perception on her. It was to extract the amazement from the phenomenon. She was absolutely right! This was no jet; it was a ``Beegah!''

Now I was as excited as she was. True, I refrained from the frantic hopping and twirling that was her natural reaction to the event (I've never been much of a dancer), but I did convey, by gasping and by tensing certain facial muscles, the fact that I thought something extraordinary was going on. At least I think I conveyed that; it's possible I might have just looked ill.

When the craft was long gone, we continued on our walk to a nearby vacant lot. I was busy noticing the deplorable fact that many empty bottles had been tossed from car windows onto the lot, when Charlotte exclaimed, ``Bah-bahs!'' She wanted very much to visit these bottles, each individually. So I complied. She gazed at them affectionately and told them they were pretty. I must admit that in short order I was no longer seeing the bottles as eyesores, as trash, but was admiring the colored glass and bright labels, looking at them with the type of fascination and intensity I might ordinarily have reserved for rare museum pieces.

When we finished, Charlotte was reluctant to part from these glass containers. I realized that she saw them as relatives of her own beloved Bah-bah, the milk bottle which was an important part of her bedtime ritual and which provided her with much comfort. Although I fully intended to clean this ``trash'' from the lot later, I resolved to plant a few bottles there at the time of her next visit so that she could again visit these relatives. I didn't want her to think that any of her loved ones had been displaced.

It's a great opportunity to be in the presence of someone like Charlotte, someone whose perceptions are so fresh. The experience has a way of reminding one that having seen a thing a thousand times does not necessarily mean the thing is ordinary. A little adjustment in the beholder's perception can make evident the thing's uniqueness.

Having learned that from her, I should go a step further and learn that Beegah sighter's dance, only I'm afraid that the next time I'm at an airport, witnesses to my gyrations would think I needed help up the ramp. As I said, I've never been much of a dancer.

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