We saw something wonderful in Juniors Rowing Camp. We saw a seagull eating a fish. Just eating. The fish was all of three pounds. There were no other seagulls to be seen. Nobody to fight with this bird over his feast. Nobody flying, diving, tormenting him. Just the seagull and the fish. And us, watching from the bridge.
We watched for easily ten minutes. Water flowing over the stones of a quasi-dam carried the fish away for a time between the smooth stones. The seagull found his feast quickly, and continued to eat it with fresh abandon.
I suppose this isn’t a really big deal, watching a bird eat, although it is rather rare for a seagull to not be fighting off other seagulls on his way to consuming his dinner. The real wonder in this moment was the Junior rowers who watched it. We stood on a bridge close enough to get a good view and far enough away to not disturb our feasting friend. We just watched. Ten to thirteen year olds caught up for ten minutes in this simple display of nature. There was no fidgeting, no boredom, no annoying sighs to signal to the rest of us and me as the leader that this game was over and it was time to move on. There was a collective contentment in watching this simple act of life in the wild.
There is nobody who can get me to disagree that kids don’t get enough activity. Kids need to be busy. They need more time outdoors. They need more play. They need to burn more calories. They need fitness. Yes, all these things. But have we forgotten that kids need time just to take in the wonders around them. It is rare, certainly, to have a group of six kids all focused on anything so quiet for so long. But I remember a childhood where children played unorganized games. I remember being alone in the yard and marveling at the antics of an ant. I remember watching out the window for long periods of time waiting for the squirrels to come out.
Are we training our kids out of their own sense of patience? Kids have energy, yes, and the need to burn off that energy. But after the swim, after the row, the hike, the soccer game, after the energy of the moment has found its outlet, can they not be given time just to think? Are televisions in the back of the SUV really necessary? Hasn’t time to think, time when our children are not being bombarded with canned music, tweets, lessons, instructions, x-boxes, Wii, been maybe a little bit pushed in the background? Need it be?
I feel in the rush to the top of the super-child model that childhood is being forsaken. This time just to be, just look, just to think, isn’t something that we measure. Or can measure. But I fear that the wonder of nature and the time to enjoy it is being lost in between all the organized activities that are designed to push our children to the top. I fear we are sacrificing their souls for no good end.
Our seagull had difficulty flying when he had finished the fish. His belly was distended comically. But he had enjoyed a satisfying meal. We, as his guests, had enjoyed a satisfying time each alone with our thoughts yet sharing the moment one with the other. I was particularly blessed to have shared not only a moment of nature, but a moment of childhood.