By almost any accounting, the world is having a rough summer. Israel and Palestine brutalize and slaughter one another. Ukraine fights off separatists and the separatists seem to have shot down a civilian airliner. War in the Congo trudges on with extreme violence but not much publicity. Poor children cross the U.S. border alone from Central America in record numbers and stunningly small-minded Americans rant about them as illegals. And these are just the stories that dominate the American news. All the unreported suffering continues as always: prisons are third worlds in our midst; the elderly, the homeless, veterans suffer unseen and unheard.
In the midst of all this, on a hot, humid, Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C. I went to the birthday part of a friend’s son. My friend, a gracious person and a gifted poet, was putting on a terrific party for her son’s seventh birthday. The grill was doing its thing in the backyard, a band of seven and eight year-olds were laughing and running around, playing hopscotch, drawing with big chalk on the brick patio floor. They played their own magical version of tag, running and laughing hard. Some adults, including me, were sitting in lawn chairs on the patio’s edge, talking about the neighborhoods where we’d grown up, schools, the kids, and birthday parties we could remember.
My friend set up a table for the kids with drawing tablets, pens, and stickers. So in between races around the patio, hopscotch, and variations of tag, the kids would occasionally sit and draw, pouring all their attention into a focused, creative effort. It amazed me to watch the intensity of a seven year-old decorating a drawing from “How to Train Your Dragon” with stickers of lightning bolts and giant bugs. The eyes examine the paper, then search the table for the right color pen or sticker. It matters to the seven year-old. The face shows that this is serious business.
The same intensity can be seen in their physical play too. The hopscotch game showed these boys and girls toes on the line as they toss a small stone, then with arms extended like birds, they jump carefully into the correct boxes, earlier drawn in chalk. Tongues hang out of mouths in an attempt to deepen the concentration, not to step out of line, not to wobble so as to fall. I can’t help but wonder if I have that kind of obvious concentration.
Sitting there in a dark green camp chair, watching these seven and eight year-olds play, laugh, groan, tag and twist their bodies to avoid being tagged, I didn’t think about the Israelis or the Palestinians at all. But driving home I did. Maybe these young people will do better. Maybe they will prove smarter, more patient, more innovative in the search for solutions. Today’s world’s leaders seem as stuck in their tired, desperate, often dishonest arguments, as they have ever been. Hope is scarce on the evening news. Too few new thoughts. Too much defensiveness. Perhaps we need to hand the whole mess over to the seven and eight year-olds. It’s hard to imagine they could mess it up more than we have.
At least they still have hope. They believe the game can be fun. They believe the artwork can be beautiful. They know the next few moments don’t have to look like the last few. We need that hope. Especially this summer.