Are childhoods happy?
The black box that often governs our life
torrents come rushing down
water gushing to meet this earth
a union thirsting for completion
as if we waited a thousand births
the wind blows in fierce approval
the trees they sway in drunken trance
i watch with wonder and expectation
she calls me out to join the dance
the grass is soaking a deep green
flowers nod, let the showers pelt
new leaves peep out, eager to unfurl
storms won't make their ardor melt
the streets i know stay brave and calm
rivulets running in hurried streams
reminiscing the paper boats of my youth
so many i launched—technicolor dreams
paper they were yet they're entrenched
in my memory castle of all such hopes
the paper melted, the colors ran
yet painted the water a bright rainbow
the rain has come, the winds we fear
the storm they say is bearing near
yet my heart sings from what I know
a happy childhood of hopes and boats…
From my debut poetry collection: Arrivals & Departures: Journeys in Poems
This is a poem I wrote a while ago to capture the childhood I look back on a lot these days. It’s that time of the year (Fall, in my hemisphere) and that age when many of us find ourselves looking back on the year and on trodden paths, if only to guide and gauge the road ahead.
Losing both my parents in less than two years has flooded me with grief and almost daily trips to my childhood. Mostly, I look back gratefully for the life I landed. But having lived a bit I’m not so naive as to imagine that there’s a simple answer to the question the title of my post poses.
Childhoods are complicated, powerful black boxes possessed with magical powers that mold us in ways we don’t often uncover until much later, sometimes never. They create our origin stories, housing them in our bodies and bones, long before our conscious memories and remembrances can form. They’re places we all travel out of but mostly forget, and often forge. We can feign we’re whole or turn away from what shapes(d) us but the stuff surfaces everywhere, even in how we raise or relate to our own children.
I remember a mostly happy childhood and my parents with a deep love. My happiest memories were of times like the ones I painted in the poem above - dreaming, creating, lost in thought. The paper boats housed colorful dreams of places I would travel to, and the excitement of that fills me with a happy buzz when I arrive in a new town or country even today.
Childhoods are complicated, powerful black boxes possessed with magical powers that mold us in ways we don’t often uncover until much later, sometimes never. They create our origin stories, housing them in our bodies and bones, long before our conscious memories and remembrances can form…
Yet a podcast I came across recently and the work of psychologist Gabor Maté (author of The Myth of Normal) has made me pay attention to the hidden forces from childhood that govern us, our happiness and even our physical health. It’s led me to think about my own faults, fumbles and deeply held assumptions and how they’re tied to life experiences and resulting premises I accepted somewhere in my younger years. This is most definitely NOT an exercise in victimhood or blame-gaming. Quite the contrary. It’s about taking an even more fundamental ownership of what we put out into the world and seeing if we can make it better. Sound onerous? It is, and I’m fully daunted by the notion, to be honest.
Doesn’t happiness feel like an art form? Like writing this blog. Some days I need to actively step outside my head to even understand what I want to say. Happiness seems to demand similar (ostensible) contradictions. It asks us to combine an active choice to remember what’s important and beautiful while actively - and with deep intention - processing the rest for exactly what it is/was - good, bad or even ugly.
And perhaps our sweet memories of childhood are like faded flowers, as suggested in my Haiku here?
Etched in faded colors, scents
Pressed flowers in books
Tell me what you think and if this post evoked something of your own childhood - the sweet, the sour, or even the bitter!
Here’s a beautiful article on the children who lost one or more parents to 9/11, and who have grown up since then. It’s about the love they missed out on yet feel so deeply, their sense of loss and concept of selves that emerged as they grew up in these 21 years. It’s sad yet inspiring and will fill you with gratitude if you are/ have been lucky enough to have had a full life with loving parents.
Thank you and…
A big THANKS to all of you who read my last post about my grandmother - in one sentence - and wrote back! I appreciate all the comments, messages, emails, texts, etc. and the careful reading you gave my words. Some of you remembered and painted vivid pictures of your elders and your beginnings; and some of you pondered deeply on the real meaning of legacy and what we might leave behind. Your thoughts and words always make me reflect — and mean the world — so please keep them coming.
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