Penguins and Pickles

Shanti asked me if we could go to Antarctica.

She is 7.

I told her I would look into it, and my preliminary research revealed that the cost of the trip was about $10000 each. I told her that.

She looked at me, and said, “Well, that means twenty thousand dollars for two people, we better start getting our money together.”

She went to her room and pulled out coins and bills – birthday money, money earned from doing her chores, bits and pieces. She retrieved an empty pickle jar from the kitchen and placed the crumpled up bills and coins in the jar.

It added up to about $41 and change.

She placed the jar on my desk, she plans to write “Antarctica” on it with a sharpie.

And she sat on the couch in my home office and asked questions…..”Mama, how many penguins are we going to see?.”, “Do you think they will slide on their bellies?”, “Did you know that daddy penguins take care of the babies?”, “Will be too cold for you?”

A day later she found a few more bucks and stuck them in the jar – we are up to about $44. And she was happy because “we are closer to going mama.” And then she set aside a few sweaters next to my backpack – so we could start packing.

Shanti is convinced we are going.

Her conviction and hope are poignant and affecting. I asked her to leave the jar on my desk, not for safekeeping, but because I need to look at that jar to understand the crystalline clarity of a little girl’s heart that can see $44 becoming $20,000, and the certainty that she and I would steer around Cape Horn, and be standing at the shores of the Ross Sea staring at ice shelf and communing with penguins.

I look at that jar on my desk to remind me that the hopes I harbor today that currently focus around: my daughters’ happiness, a person I love, a friend’s health, a book I am writing, research I am conducting, a trip I am planning, TV shows I am pitching – WILL be realized. Not MIGHT. WILL.

And if they don’t? I guess I will be ok. Broken hearts heal. Disappointment fades. Losses are mourned. New opportunities arise.

Shanti showed me that hope and conviction are everything. And you can’t fake it. Perhaps the reason it is so difficult to put voice to hope is because the corollary – that the hope will be dashed – is too devastating. And fear often blocks the maintenance of the hope, because it means taking leaps away from societal scripts, reality, or security. I am not talking about blind faith – I am too old and bruised for that. I am talking about circumspect faith.

I look at the $44 next to me. $44 will somehow become $20K. Someday – perhaps 10 years from now, perhaps 25, an adult daughter and her older, likely slower, mother will stand on the deck of a ship, smile at the penguins, and hike on the ice. We will reflect on the blessing of having children. At a life well lived. At journeys made. Mountains climbed. At loves found and lost. At difficult choices, and the fortitude to make them.

Maybe everyone should put a pickle jar on his or her desk, and write something on it with a sharpie. It doesn’t have to be a material thing or an adventure. It may be your memoir, it may be that college degree you didn’t finish, it may be sky diving, or it may be a call to a long lost love or a newly found one. Maybe you don’t put money in it. But let it remind you to put down fear, realize possibility, give life a chance, and remain confident that it will happen.

Rilke put it best when he said that “deep on the inside everyone is like a church, and the walls are adorned with festive frescoes………Some people advance quite far into and through life without suspecting the original magnificence underneath the sober poverty. But blessed is he who senses, finds and secretly recovers it. He presents himself with a gift. And he will return home to himself.”

Seven year olds know they have those frescoes inside. And they fill pickle jars with dreams. Here’s hoping the rest of us can dust off those frescoes and find an empty jar.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011 at 10:29 am and is filed under Health and Wellness, Parenting, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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