Stop at the Merry-Go-Round

I’m already a bit tired of blogging about myself, but people keep telling me stories, so that’s what I’m going to write here for a while: other people’s stories.

About a month ago on our morning walk, Sophie and I met a beautiful white-haired neighbor also out for her morning walk. She was feeling reflective that day, she said, because it was her granddaughter’s 16th birthday and also the 6th anniversary of the day her mother had died, at age 100. So she was thinking about the past and the future.

This lady remembered when her son was little, they used to drive past a park with a merry-go-round, on the way home from the supermarket or other errands, and her son used to always beg to stop to play at the park. Sometimes they’d stop. Sometimes she’d decide they were too busy: they needed to get home to make dinner or do some other chores or something. One day, she declared, “We have time to stop today!” And her son whined, “Mo-o-o-o-om, I’m five now. I’m too old for that merry-go-round.” She told me that this is what she learned: always stop at the merry-go-round. It will be far too soon that your child outgrows the park. The other chores can wait. Stop at the park, stop at the merry-go-round, now while you can.

I love this story, partly because merry-go-rounds themselves don’t really stop. It’s such a challenge to live fully in the present moment, appreciating Sophie right now, instead of thinking, “I can’t wait till she can talk,” or “I already miss when she just lay still and cuddly in my arms all day.” It’s such a challenge to be entirely present with Sophie, slowing down enough to fully delight in the little rubber balls that she is currently obsessed with; it’s a challenge to simply take as much joy as she does in eternally fishing the balls out from under her crib. I spend too much time distracted, trying to also clean the house and fold the laundry and chat with other adults. It’s basic spirituality, I know, from Buddha to Saint Augustine to Thoreau to modern yoga. It’s simple slogans that are easy to repeat but hard to actually embody: “Be here now,” live in the present moment instead of the past or the future, breathe, stop at the merry-go-round.

At my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the high-schoolers sing Joni Mitchell’s song about merry-go-rounds at every coming-of-age milestone. They even do a cute little dance with it. I love how un-self-conscious these UU teenagers are, and every time they sing “The Circle Game,” it actually makes me tear up a little bit.

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