Perhaps you have heard of the concept of viewing the world through the eyes of a child. Children tend to see people and events with a pureness that hasn’t yet been twisted by cynicism and disappointment. Think about how awesome it is when your social media is filled with pictures of babies and puppies. There is something about their untested and untapped potential that warms our hearts and reminds us of our own potential light and life.
What happens, though, when that childlike bewilderment and awareness comes face to face with hurt and confusion?What happens when the clashing of opposing forces causes you to question the light within you?
I have read a lot of stories about people seeing or hearing kids responding to harsh situations with a levity that is supposed to be admirable. But what if a childlike worldview isn’t about carelessness or levity, but about being genuine? Let me tell you a story about a time like that:
During my freshman year in college — quite a few years ago now — I was at a family cookout. I had just gotten my food and was walking to a table to sit down across from my 5-year-old nephew.
A little background: In case you do not know me or follow my writing, I have a physical disability called muscular dystrophy. I can walk some short distances but it causes me to have a pretty large “waddling gate” when I walk. I found myself the butt of many jokes growing up, being called “penguin this” and “wobble that.” Nonetheless, especially that first year after college, I was overly aware of my differences and quite self-conscious.
My sister knew that I always had a fear of what my nephew would think about having an uncle who has a disability once he was old enough to comprehend the differences about me. My nephew had never shown signs of concern over my difficulties or physical differences. In fact, he became a refuge for me in my high-school years. He saw me for who I was and not what I couldn’t do.
That is what made this next moment so difficult.
I sat down across from my nephew and smiled at him. He smiled back and said, “Uncle Matt, you walk funny, you look like a penguin!” He said it matter of fact, I didn’t respond in any noticeable way. Inwardly it cut me deep as my fears rose to the surface, but I refused to show him that. Just like his mother or father, I did nothing to indicate any reaction. Without missing a beat, my nephew’s eyes welled with tears and he grabbed his stomach. He exclaimed, “Uncle Matt, I am so sorry, my stomach hurts so much, why did I say that? You aren’t a penguin! You are my uncle and I love you.”
My nephew was physically sickened by his guilt over what he said to me. My sister, my brother-in-law and I could only watch in amazement as this little boy showed more emotional/relational range and awareness than most adults.
My tears welled up and I explained to him that I forgave him and we talked about how it made me feel and we ended our conversation with a hug. I will never forget this moment where I saw through the eyes of my nephew the mess of our world. Where pureness crashes against dirt. What I found is that to see the world as a child, you must embrace your own imperfection and your need for forgiveness. Every time I find myself in conflict or stirred with intense emotion, I think back on my nephew. Will I lay down my pride in a moment’s notice? Will I embrace forgiveness and mercy for the sake of love and relationship? Will I lean into authenticity when my hopes and dreams crash against the disparity of this world?
Childlike vision far exceeds levity; it is as deep as it is light.
Matt Curcio is a published writer and speaker residing in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2016 he founded Break The Roof, a nonprofit disability advocacy organization. Matt intends to break open all the roofs that have capped off the potential in people no matter their abilities. To contact Matt, visit mattcurcio.org or breaktheroof.org.