What’s special about them, given their age, is the quality of light their presence contributes. To me, experiencing that light is like a kiss from the gods.
Hanging out before a recent family wedding, I say to my 17 year-old nephew, Jordan, whom I’d seldom seen and with whom I’d never had a real conversation, “So, here’s my question to you. Let’s assume we never meet again after today. At my age, and how infrequently our paths cross, that’s a definite possibility. What I’d love to know, if you’re willing to share, is––what is the most important thing you’ve learned in 17 years?” After several seconds reflection, he says, “You can influence others a lot more with compassion than in any other way.”
I don’t know how I might have answered such a question at his age, but that sure wasn’t it. “Wow,” I say. “Good for you. How did you learn that?”
“From watching the people around me,” he says.
And so began a lovely chat I hope we continue about what it means to be an awake human being––just about my favorite topic.
A little later, at the reception dinner, I was delighted to find myself sitting next to 15 year-old Seneca, daughter of one of my nieces. Seneca is another person I seldom encounter and with whom I’d never had a conversation. I ask her the same question. I tell her that she certainly doesn’t need to answer me if she prefers not to, or she can answer at any time that strikes her fancy if I’m still alive. She says, “No. I have an answer. I think it’s good to value your education, because one of the things you learn is that the differences between people really don’t matter.”
I told this story to a friend familiar with my work in the world. He said, “You may be out of a job.”
Where the heck do kids like this come from? In this case, the parents of both are pretty terrific. But still…. It just seems there’s more than that to a person so young who resonates eternal wisdom.
Another of my long-time playmates, a fellow who was a monk for 35 years, prompted me to entertain this possibility:
We commonly consider human evolution to be linear, as in a steadily expanding sensitivity to the choices we make. And while that may be the case, it includes intense extremes: the all but unfathomable brutality of profound ignorance and the equally unfathomable healing power of profound love. Hitler and Gandhi are convenient icons of these extremes.
With that in mind, humankind is at a uniquely sensitive place in its evolution, given how easy it is for our ignorance to make our planet uninhabitable, and the gusto with which we seem to be doing so. The universe, in its mathematical precision, responds to this reality just as the human body responds to an acute illness––AIDS or Ebola, for instance––by generating forces of health that counter the forces of annihilation.
That makes my two young relatives, and the worldwide tribe of rare kids like them, part of the universe’s natural response to exceptional craziness. How cool!
Fair enough, you may say, but where does their wisdom come from? Parents and others nurture it, but these kids must have walked in the door with a certain understanding. How did they get it?
My story is ancient.
This lifetime is one of countless incarnations on a journey of growing conscious union with All That Is. (“Heaven is Inevitable” reads God’s favorite t-shirt.) In a given incarnation, we basically draw to us those experiences (including the family we’re born into) that serve what we most need to learn, and the support we need to learn it, at that point on our path of “self-realization.” (This is why I champion the view that every experience is a gift and the business of life is discovering how come.) Meanwhile, we bring with us into any incarnation whatever wisdom and everything else we’ve accumulated (including healthy and unhealthy habits).
Jordan and Seneca, then, like the rest of us alive today, are served in some important way by living in this “It was a dark and stormy night and the world was hanging by a thread” chapter of humankind’s unfolding. What’s special about them, given their age, is the quality of light their presence contributes.
To me, experiencing that light is like a kiss from the gods.
P.S. Not incidentally, my conversations with them took place at the wedding of two brides: Jordan’s eldest sister, Rachel, 29, and her high school sweetheart, Sarah. One must be a warrior of the heart to live on the leading edge of social change. Which is why their wedding was so special. A couple hundred people gathering in celebration––highlighted by toasts given by the two dads (one of them my youngest brother)––was a beautiful reminder that we all are influenced more by compassion than by any other way, and that differences between us don’t really matter, except to make life a lot more rich.