Thursday, December 25, 2008

On Your Journey through Life, Take with you a Child with Eyes of Wonder

The Blessings of Dumb Childlike Wonder is the name of the article. By Garrison Keillor. He wrote it on December 23rd.

On the left, bright, freckle-faced girl finds the wonder in the ole webcam.

Keillor's article begins:

"It is the blessed Christmas season. But of course you know that. Unless you live ten miles up a box canyon deep in the Wasatch Range with only your dog Boomer and are demented from drinking bad water, you are inhaling Christmas night and day and "Adeste Fideles" is stuck in your head like a five-inch nail.This Christmas I am in New York for the general dazzlement and variety." For the rest of the article, go here.

I can relate.

When the frenzy of my fellow Americans (ahh, LBJ) reaches a fever pitch, so unlike peace and joy, so unlike ... Christmas ... I choose to go on a Caribbean cruise every year the second week or so in December. The ships are always tastefully decorated AND anything Christmas is UNDER-stated. This particular cruise, on the Carnival's Ecstasy offered the kind of rate I like, and I can drive to Galveston easily enough. Most fun of all, we were re-routed from Cozumel (been there, done that) to Progreso, which features one of the 7 wonders of the world, Chichan Itza. How could we get so lucky?

But I digress.

Anyway, on this annual trip, I like to take a child. Or let's say, someone who has never cruised before.

I have seen many Christmasses. I have also been on many cruises. To see anything in the eyes of a child, is a wonder to me unlike any other. "What's this?" "Can I go here?" What are they doing over there?" "They said 'muster.' What's that?" "Oh look! That towel!" I have seen 100 towels folded like 100 things; through her eyes, it was a wonder again for me, like the first time.

And they always point out new things to me. This year's invited guest, a charming young lady, asked some interesting questions. We were seated for dinner with a couple and their daughter, about 25 years old, who, they said, "Had the mind of a 6 year old."

Now the dinner seating on a cruise is always fun. You can request a table for 2, 4, up to 10, but nothing is guaranteed. I have sat with people where I requested to be moved the next night. (There was someone at the table who was obviously an alcoholic and got so drunk the first night, he had to be removed by the staff, and, as our guide in Progreso said, "When the puking begins, the fun is over.")

I have also sat at a table where THEY asked to be moved. We showed up the next night to an empty table, save for ourselves. The husbands had been flirting with my beautiful sister. The wives requested a move.

So I mentioned that we might move to another table, or maybe this family would not come back.
Our sensitive young miss looked puzzled and said, "Is it because of their daughter that you want to be moved?"

"No," I said. It's because this is like being at a new school, where there are potential friends everywhere, and if we had different dinner companions each night, who knows whom we might meet. Maybe a nice teenage boy your age??"

But back to Keillor's article. I had the same sort of upbringing ... for many years refusing to indulge myself in any number of things. Debtors' prison ... straw mat ... well, actually in my family it was "Eat your dinner. There are children starving in Africa." But this annual cruise ... ahhh, I have learned to indulge. I sometimes order two entrees. Ahhh, the decadence of it all.

There's also a bit of the Keillor in me in that Christmas party (dinner on the cruise) thing he wrote about. "It isn't fun to stand around making small talk with other people's friends as they anesthetize themselves," he wrote. For me, an interesting dinner table conversation is part of ETIQUETTE, part of EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. And boy did our Little Miss shine. Her parents have done a sterling job. And my beautiful sister outdid herself, as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, coming up with question after comment after question, to keep the thing going.

But after a two-hour dinner, the family we were with seemed to have exhausted any interesting conversation, and I was hoping to try something new. That's all.

Our young companion's question reminded me how often people have erroneous assumptions (and how smart of her to check it out), and likewise, how often I fail to communicate in the most effective manner.

Which is what Emotional Intelligence is all about.

This is something that I have had to work on for many years. Maybe it's that background, Keillor and I share, at least in part. When I have to focus -- and I was "in charge" of the whole trip, I get VERY focused. How many times a child has said to me, "Are you mad at me?" And I explain. This taught me to explain TO ADULTS AS WELL. Something like, "I need to focus on this now. I am going to switch gear (are you ready?) Because there are some important details and I want this part of the trip to go well. I'm not angry at anyone or anything. I am just concentrating. Okay?"

Adults rarely ask that kind of question, but they may be making assumptions, and wanting answers.

However, there was the benefit banquet I was heading and we were setting up at the hotel ... 200 people expected, decorations hadn't shown up ... cook was screaming about timing ... my feet hurt ... I was UBER focused. OK. Stressed.

And from nowhere appeared a Mexican waiter who took me in his arms and said, "Let's dance" and took me across the floor, around the tables, and made me laugh.

Now THAT'S emotional intelligence.

P.S. For THE WONDER, it doesn't have to be a child. I stood on the deck of a ship once not long ago next to a young man about 30 years old who quietly said. "I have never seen an ocean before."

It changes one's perspective.

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