My Number One

8 Jun

I’ve heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true

– Charlie and The Chocolate Factory

In NYC, I quickly realized that the experiences I was having were significant. I remember walking the streets with the kids and thinking to myself that I was totally drawing all of it within. I didn’t want to ignore any of it nor give any piece of the experience away, even to them. It was the strangest feeling, and to be perfectly honest I began to feel a tad guilty. The trip really was supposed to be about allowing the kids an experience, but what it ended up being for me was taking it all for myself. I became one of them in a way, trying to fully immerse myself in the landscape, in each event, in each moment.

I think this is where the idea of really living with purpose…i.e. “the bucket list” was actually born. I had always had a list of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do, and I encourage my students to make a list as well. When I teach Ode to a Nightingale, I always try to connect the kids to the fact that Keats died so young and when you know you are ill, every single instance becomes precious. Every sensation, every moment, every breath you become awake to when you understand that it may be your last. So I ask them to list 25 things they want to do before they die and then I direct them to live life in such a way as to cross things off of that list and then add 25 more.  Sitting in the theater at Memphis, I suddenly realized how many experiences I put off for the pleasure of others. No more; these I need to do for myself.

The number one item on my list was to go to the greatest toy store in the world, FAO Schwarz. I can remember telling my friend Paul when he was a student of mine to bring me back a picture of it when he ventured to NYC as a senior . He did, and brought me a tiny stuffed lion as well. There was something about the idea of a tremendous toy store that allowed me to reconnect with the child within, the simple joy of toy and wonder. I needed to go. I had no idea what I would find, but if I was only allowed one item on my list, FAO was to be the destination.

When we approached the store, the kids knew the whole story of why we were going. In knowing about my list and the importance of this event, they watched me instead of me watching them. They gave me their experience as I so often had done for them and for others. This joy they felt for me, in seeing my excitement was a gift in itself. And so I allowed, probably for the first time, to melt into my truest self in front of a lovely bunch of teenagers. They took pictures of me with the doorman, racing through the different sections, throwing myself on huge stuffed animals, and they began to play alongside me, snapping pictures along the way. I remember one young man who said to me, “You know, I didn’t really get why we were coming here, but this place is awesome!”

After several hours, I struggled with what to buy to remember this moment, this number one experience that I had lived to see. Suddenly I knew. Of all the things to buy, I chose my favorite candy. Like enjoying a piece of candy, these sorts of gifts happen for only a brief moment, and just once. No use in trying to really keep them.

I may return to this land of childhood again one day. I do plan to, but no other afternoon will ever be as important, as meaningful as accomplishing this first one.

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