Childhood Lessons

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My wife and I have great conversations after sex. The intimacy of sex makes one feel less vulnerable and more in touch with the core personality.

I also can’t think of a more exciting and satisfying way to spend my time, but that’s beside the point.

I don’t remember how we got on the subject, but I flashed back to my early childhood. My childhood was divided into two distinct eras. The years up to age eight were good years when I felt secure and had few obstacles in the way of my development. The years from eight to early teens were very bad years of domestic violence, financial insecurity and continuous embarrassment.

I’ll go to the dark place someday, but in talking to my wife about early childhood, I discovered that the things I learned in those years gave me the strength and wisdom to survive the bad years.

When I was about four or five years old, I had two best friends and a crush on a little girl. My two best friends were twins named Peter and Paul. They were alike in every way except for one important difference. Paul was born blind.

I remember my mother explaining to me that Paul couldn’t see things and I would have to help him when we played together. I don’t know if I was capable of empathy, but what my mother said made perfect sense to me. If someone has a problem, you help them out.

I helped Paul by pulling him around in my wagon, letting him spend more time feeling the toys before we started playing with them and holding his hand when playing games that required running. I never thought of him as a person with a disability, just as a kid who needed a little help.

A year later I entered kindergarten. I know I made friends there, but the only person who mattered to me was Sandy.

Sandy was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, with beautiful blonde curls, a peachy complexion and sparkling blue eyes. She had a wonderful smile and liked to laugh a lot.

Sandy was also confined to a wheelchair.

I spent all my play time with Sandy. I don’t remember what we played, but we were inseparable, and for some reason I developed an intense pride for her. I had probably seen enough TV to know about relationships between the sexes and how important it was to men that they had a beautiful wife. There I was, only five years old, and I had already found my dream girl. I had ended one of life’s early quests at an extremely young age.

The school had a Christmas party where all the parents and children came together for an evening to celebrate the season. I looked forward to that night with great anticipation because I wanted my parents to see my beautiful girlfriend. Sandy did not disappoint, as she wore a little red velvet dress with a bright red bow in her curls that made her more beautiful than ever. I beamed with pride as the two sets of parents watched us together and smiled with what I took to be tentative consent for us to marry someday.

We moved to a different town later that year and I never saw Sandy again. We stayed in touch with Peter and Paul for a little while, but my father was entering his period of instability and there was some kind of falling out between the adults.

My friendships with Paul and Sandy shaped my personality in ways I did not understand at the time. To say that they helped me develop compassion and empathy is not accurate, because I didn’t see them as people in need of compassion and empathy. Paul was a guy who needed some help with a few things. Sandy was simply a beautiful girl who couldn’t walk. I never attached a stigma to either disability, so it never occurred to me to feel sorry for them because they couldn’t do certain things I could do. I helped them, sure, but they helped me by being my friends.

How those relationships helped me survive the bad times is more important. In early childhood, you are intensely curious about how the world works. Once you think you understand it, that understanding becomes a core part of your belief system as to how the world should work.

So, because I believed that the world was a place where people help each other out, I was able to interpret the act of people hurting each other as a temporary aberration, a deviation from the norm. I didn’t need any religious training to tell me that hurting people was wrong, for if helping people was the way of the world, hurting people had to be wrong. The person doing the hurting needed help so they wouldn’t hurt people any more.

Readers may consider that a naive and unrealistic belief in a world full of violence, but I don’t want to change it. I like a world where helping people is simply what we do.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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