Don Henley's iconic song "The End of the Innocence" laments the loss of childhood innocence--purity intercepted by Lao Tzu's ten thousand things.
"You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence"
John John is growing up too fast--a cliche to anyone who hasn't experienced the phenomenon, but a harsh reality to all those parents who've watched their sons and daughters change before their eyes... not enough time... never enough time. Their bodies change, their faces change, their skills and understanding change, and the babies they once were... are gone.
I travel every week for work. Not a week goes by that I'm not on the road. One, two, sometimes three cities a week--two, sometimes three nights a week I am not home. Thus, the relative speed at which John John grows seems further accelerated by the short yet important gaps when I am gone. I will leave for three days, and all of a sudden he has learned to roll over, or crawl, or stand, or a new tooth has popped up, or he just looks older--more like a boy and less like a baby.
"Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say good bye"
This "growing too fast" phenomenon is based on the relative perspectives of the subject and the observer. John John is almost 10 months old. To him, one month is 1/10th of his entire life. To me, one month is 1/409th of mine. Then there's our relative biological growth. My growth has plateaued (or perhaps decelerated), yet John John's growth seems almost logarithmic--changing significantly every week.
I must admit, I simultaneously rejoice in his growth and think often of his future, while quietly plotting exactly how to freeze time, to keep him small and innocent forever--so far my plan isn't going very well. I know he is still young now, and his innocence will linger for a while, but already I am starting to feel his growth--a sign, I suppose, that he is thriving.
He sleeps with me and my wife. Often in the middle of the night, we'll find his soft face laying on my elbow and his even softer feet tucked under Courtney, or vice versa. He'll wake up at 4:30 in the morning, sit up, and--knowing that we're still asleep--he'll start whispering to us, "dadadada, babababa." And he'll tap us as if to say, "mom, dad, I'm awake now and ready to play."
Recently, just in the last few days, he's started to nap in his crib, instead of on mom, and I am both proud and heartbroken.
But then I think of all the kids who will never get the chance to grow up. The innocent kids who, because of a terminal childhood illness, will never have the opportunity to lose their innocence. I suppose some do prematurely.
Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting a Wish Kid on the farm. He is four years old and has a brain tumor. He is a blessing to his parents and he is a blessing to his community--his presence and his bravery are reminders that life's precious moments now are to be counted and enjoyed and savored and loved and celebrated. I don't know this young man's fate, but I consider him a blessing to me for that reminder alone.
So, as I lay my head back on the ground, I remember that God's greatest gift to me will be John's growth from innocence, with a hope that he'll always hold innocence in his heart, for himself and for others.
John Paul Fiske, Sr.