This week in my social psychology class we had a long discussion about humans’ awareness of their mortality and the things they do to deal with it. Trust me, if you want a depressing discussion, that’s a great one to have.
It seemed particularly potent to me at the time because just the week prior my mother and two youngest siblings had to put their dog down. I wasn’t particularly attached to the dog personally, but perhaps by proxy through Avey. Avey loved Penny! She talked about her all the time, and anytime we told her we were going to Nanna’s house, she would get excited about seeing Penny too. While there, Avey would watch her with a curious hesitancy, but never ceased to light up when she trotted through the room.
So how do you explain to an 18-month-old who is just beginning to get some grasp of language what death is? How do we explain to her that Penny is gone and will not be coming back?
The afternoon after my class, Avey and I went to play in the sandbox for a while. She could sit for hours in the sand, picking up little fistfuls and letting it run out through her fingers. Every now and then, she’d want to share her experience with me and handed me a little fistful of sand too. “Nankoo” (thank you), she’d say as I accepted the gracious gift.
And I got to thinking about the whole death thing. How nice it must be to be so small and unaware. My little angel has no concept of death. No clue that the magic of playing in the sand, feeling the breeze through her hair, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on her cheeks has any possibility of ending. She knows only life. And she relishes everything she is capable of experiencing at her age: chasing bubbles through the grass, listening to the birds chirping, watching squirrels jump through the tree branches, hearing music, wiggling her little arms to “dance”, giving hugs to anyone and anything that will accept them, and reading Green Eggs and Ham in Daddy’s lap. She is the embodiment of life. How I wish I had a little more of her deep love of everything that is life!
And so sometimes I wonder; who’s learning from whom?