A long time ago, I came home from work one day and found my five-year old son carefully studying a pile of metal debris he must have just lugged into our yard from a neighboring hillside lot. We lived on the edge of a small city in the foothills, and there were frequent illegal dumpings of trash by the side of the dirt road near our house. I was prone to a lot of anger at that time, and my first reaction was to get upset at his messing about with all that dangerously twisted metal refuse.
All I could see were old sections of pipe, broken gear-like mechanisms, bent sheet-metal, jagged edges everywhere. I forced back the urge to scold and pull his hands out of that threatening heap. Instead, I asked him as pleasantly as I could, "So, B, what's all that junk you've got there?"
Without looking up at me, he winced and said, almost wearily, making yet another try to get his lost-cause father to understand his imaginings. "Dad, it's not junk – it's treasure."
"Oh…right…treasure," I said slowly as I looked more carefully. And then I could see what he was seeing.
This was not random trash dumped by the road. He had assembled each object carefully, the better to appreciate its uniqueness. There was a tri-jointed section of pipe with each right angle turned in a different direction, like part of a jungle-gym. There was a remnant of an old hand pumping mechanism from an ancient well, meshed gears attached to a broken rod that probably came from an old piece of farm equipment, a foot-wide wheel attached to a valve for opening and shutting what? – perhaps an irrigation ditch.
Those were treasures, rusty and cracked to be sure from years of abandonment in a field, still caked with dirt, but antique pieces of machinery that couldn't fail to capture B's imagination. He must have spent hours digging them out of the ground. I sat down with him to examine everything more closely. He carefully explained the dazzling machine construction he wanted to build with them.
So I had to learn again that it's all about the intention, the meaning you carry in your head. It can be anger and the urge to control or it can be creativity and openness to whatever is new and strange. I still have to remind myself of this most basic way of fighting back, of reconnecting, just by asking myself, How would five-year B look at this? What possibilities would he see?
Photo Courtesy of Gary Houston at MorgueFile