When I ran from my abusive relationship, I lived for a while with my sister and her family. I took care of my nephew during the day while she worked. I remember taking him on his first walks, hearing his first words. When he was just beginning to venture into the realm of words, he had a unique way of combining Aunt and Michelle into Asha. At noontime one day, we read our customary books and then I put him down for his nap. I went about cleaning up the lunch dishes and tidying the living room from our morning play, naturally assuming from his silence that he had fallen asleep. I went to use the restroom, and when I flushed the toilet, I heard his little voice questioning from the bedroom, “Aaashaaa?” As if to say “Caught ya!”
When he began to learn to walk, I would take him outside with his blue push truck. At first, it was just a few halting steps in the driveway. Soon he was venturing to the next house and finally down the block. It was during the Christmas season and a few houses down, the neighbor’s yard was decorated with Santa, reindeer, Frosty . . . the works. As he stared at the plastic figurine-filled yard, he would occasionally glance back at me, his eyes filled with wonder and awe, not realizing that he was no longer holding on to his truck and taking steps toward the “winter wonderland.”
The walks became a daily routine. I loved to watch his first explorations of the world around him. He took nothing for granted. The leaves crunching under his shoes, the sound of his footsteps in the gravel, the trail his feet would leave in the sand, the texture of the leaves between his tiny fingers; they were all a smorgasbord for his senses. He would often stoop and inspect things; stare for an eternity at a kitten perched on a wall, be completely captivated by the way a plant would twirl in the wind.
His innocence and awe of the world around him made me feel cynical and jaded. I pass through each day and never hear a bird sing, never notice the symphony of noises this world has to offer. Though just over a year old, he had taught me an important lesson: never become numb to the beauty and wonder of everything God has created around you. And I can still hear him when I start to focus on what isn’t important and I am not paying attention to what God is giving me. “Asha?”
Years later, married and with a child of my own, I took my daughter outside to sit on the front porch with me. She’s 18 months old and I am going to wow her with the “symphony” of every day life and teach her how to pay attention to the world around her. A dog barks from the yard two doors down, and I ask her if she heard the doggy. I point to the two huge trees in the front yard and show her how the leaves sway in the wind. My smart little cookie took no time at all to grasp the idea, and began pointing out noises and objects. At one point, she let me know she had heard an airplane. I was about to let her know she was mistaken, that it was a big truck she had heard, but then in the distance I heard it. A little later, she pointed to a car rolling by and said “blue.” When had she learned her colors?
The next hour went by with me being “wowed” by my daughter’s knowledge and how well she had been “paying attention” to all of her surroundings. Once again, I was being taught, when I had set out to teach. I had been paying attention, but my daughter was saying, “Listen closer.” And in the distant recesses of my mind, I heard my nephew. “Asha?”