As I walked past my sleeping son's bedroom, the play of
light on his ceiling recalled a private, childhood wonder.
I would lie in bed late at night, watching light from rolling
city traffic transform itself into a set of inexplicable
images that would form slowly on one part of the ceiling,
move steadily across the top and then glide off down the
wall in a jazzy sort of slow motion before slinking off into
the night. Those evening light shows created many a
transcendent moment before I fell off to sleep, enveloped
and tingled by the bebop mysteriŽes of urban night.
The patterns seemed to defy the logic of intuitive physics,
though I knew it was just a fortuitous placement of
venetian blinds. Part of what made them precious was their
etherial nature. As soon as they appeared, they began to
disassemble and disappear. They made sense, and they
didn't. They were part of the natural urban flow, yet they
felt slightly beyond order and control.
These memories took me, in turn, to a similar experience
from a youthful of country summers. As my buddies and I
were hauled from one activity to another in the Leventhal's
trusty station wagon, we'd make up stories about cloud patterns
we could see. Our imaginations soared, there in the
country, there in the day.
Urban or rural, a constant, universal childhood joy is the simple
opportunity to manipulate for your own ends a
world designed for something else.
Having, but not really having, control over the
external environment feels a perfect relation to the natural
order of things, whether those things are clouds, fields,
cluttered urban lots or light patterns on ceilings. And, in
the endlessly funky arcade of the child's mind, there is
always the wish for more. The perfect, never ending game;
the wish that it would go on forever, the wish that it would
always remain. Just so.
But as we were taken down those country roads, we would
lose sight of the clouds; patterns would become harder to
discern with the dark. As soon as the game began, it would
begin to end. The delicate balance between the kids (giggling
at each other's cloud plays) and the delicate balance
between the kids and the sky (the amount of available light)
none of these could last.
As the sky darkened and it became harder to wheedle
shapes and stories out of it, the magic of the moment would
surely and sadly slip.
Today, I think a lot about kids being bumped from one
fragile activity to another; from one fragile friendship to
another; from one fragile age to another. Bumped and bumped
until adulthood. Until they confront the last patterns of
the night; abstract, deep, frightening.