When I started writing this, I planned on telling about our weekend. We went to a nearby nature park that has pretty much everything you would need to have a great adventure: creeks, waterfalls, a lake, caves, a bow & arrow range, and what seem to be limitless winding trails through the woods. Everything a kid would want. We had a whole day of fun in order, picnic included.
Walking with the family, I started creating a mental list of things that I wish we had brought along. I was present but still in planning mode, trying to find ways to optimize the amount of fun we could have there in the future.
As the kids were feeding the geese, I spotted an older teenager walking his dog on the other side of the lake. I say walking, but I should say running. He had one of those extendable leashes and his dog was running everywhere, dragging the kid behind him.
I thought to myself that this poor guy needed to work on his leash training. After the kids finished feeding the geese, we decided to walk on a trail on the other side of the lake which was going to take us past him. As we crossed paths he waved and said hi, but kept on running, laughing as he went by. I couldn’t figure it out. Usually when a dog is pulling a leash like that, the owner is yelling and jerking the dog all over the place, but he was running his hardest trying to keep up. They didn’t seem to be going in any specific direction – just running from place to place. I was thinking about it so much that I forgot that I was staring. After a well deserved jab from my wife, we continued down the trail.
We stopped at a shallow place in the creek to wade and catch crawfish, or crawdads, whatever you like calling them. As I concentrated on catching an unsuspecting crawdad, I heard rustling coming from the woods. I looked up to see the same kid come bursting out of the thick brush, still running with the dog. He paused on the bank and took the time to carefully roll up the legs of his pants. After finishing he charged full speed ahead, splashing past us in the steam and soaking his shoes, socks, and pants. He stopped on the other side to say hi again and asked which way to the lake. I pointed him in the right direction, and my mind went back to thinking about what’s going through his mind. I do this with pretty much everybody, but this kid baffled me.
He asked again (That way?) as he pointed and I replied again (Yep, you got it, buddy). He stood there and looked around like it was the first time he had ever been in the woods. Then as he started running again back toward the lake, I caught a glimpse of a smile, and it instantly triggered a feeling inside that I had lost: that sense of complete freedom and joy that comes with living in the moment.
We all experience excitement like this in childhood, but as and adult they seem few and far between.
Like riding your bike for the first time, getting your license and first car, graduating high school, or leaving your wedding with your spouse with no idea what’s around the next bend. I was trying to find something about him that was missing, but it was me that was missing something. I was missing out on the moment, missing the point of being in nature, and missing a chance to be myself with no judgment from the world, which is growing more and more critical by the second. We are all critical at our core, but I was being critical of someone who had the bravery to be himself while I was trying to conform to what I thought was normal instead of running with a natural gratefulness for the life that I have been given.
I see people run all the time, but it is often so mechanical. They seem so aware of their movements and inward in their thinking. They press on, not looking anywhere or appreciating their surroundings. Pushing themselves forward, toward a goal that they think will bring them joy, like exercise terminators. This kid at the park was nothing like that. His dog wasn’t out of control, and he wasn’t being dragged anywhere. He was loving every second of being in nature and just being alive. You could see it as clear as day as he ran away with his dog. He was looking at everything with fresh eyes, laughing and talking to his dog like no one was watching.
A smile crept across my face as I watched him go. Wishing I could experience that feeling of being so in the moment, that I didn’t care what anyone else was thinking. What would it be like to have the freedom that comes with a child-like perspective? When I was younger, I remember doing the same thing. I looked at the world and all those in it like I was seeing it all for the first time. I want to meet that kid again.