We had tickets for the late night flight out of La Guardia Airport in New York City. My grandfather was fussing with my mother as she dragged me along by the hand toward the boarding area. He suddenly grabbed me up and kissed me good-bye. Looking back, I still remember the look on his face as we left him standing there. I don’t recall if we had much luggage or not; it didn’t seem like we did, but we were off anyway. We had never been on an airplane before, and this one would take us across the entire United States. It had only been two years since TWA began nonstop service from New York City to Los Angeles in 1945. I had a feeling it was going to be a long night.
As a child, I had no background against which to judge those experiences, so everything that was happening was acutely alive: my mother’s tears as she sat looking out into the dark sky, my grandfather’s anger in the airport terminal, my father’s absence. I didn’t understand why adults fought and argued so much. I didn’t understand why we were going so far away. There was just so much I didn’t understand.
The morning found me in the rear of the plane waking up. A friendly stewardess had some cold orange juice for me. My mother had made a new friend who was seated near us, a Spanish woman with a daughter my age. Since we knew no one in Los Angeles, our new acquaintance suggested we stay at a rooming house that she and her daughter would be staying at.
Getting out of the taxi later that day, I found myself looking up at an old wooden structure that was in need of painting. There were palm trees shading it, a big yard, and a garage filled with junk. The rooming house was home to several families. That night was very scary for me. My mother and her new friend had decided to go out, leaving me alone in the darkness. I guess she thought I wouldn’t wake up and notice she was gone. I felt utterly abandoned in a strange new world. I began to cry. Someone I had never seen before came in to calm me, and to my surprise, they tucked me back into bed.
The next morning, I awoke to find my mother had returned. I had already forgotten the night and was eager to explore my new surroundings. It was a beautiful day. My child’s mind knew I didn’t have to make sense of what had happened, and I was totally engaged in the present moment. As I stood outside, with the shafts of light wrestling their way through the palm fronds, the smell of the air and the sounds of cars, trucks, and people filled me with wonder.
Someone offered me a piece of bubble gum that came with a transferable tattoo. I wet the paper, placed it on the top of my left hand, and let the ink dry. Strange, isn’t it, how we can remember some things from childhood in such detail that they could have happened moments ago.
As I peeled the dry paper off my hand, I was dazzled, not just by the colorful ink marks, but also by an intense and surprising serenity. How crazy the world appeared, the questions it presented, my confusion about adult behaviors—none of it mattered in that sunlit moment. In that sunlit moment, I was safe and happy for no other reason than being alive. In that sunlit moment, I had all I ever wanted and was full beyond measure.
I had peeled away the paper, not just from the tattoo, but also from myself, revealing my true nature and leaving me with a beautiful peacefulness.
We spend many years looking to return to those sunlit moments, or perhaps we don’t remember them at all. All children have them, but we forget or deny that we ever did. Often we become so busy with cares, concerns, and worries, watching our lives fly by, that we never again catch a glimpse. But maybe that childlike wonder and innocence is still available for all who allow it. It will come on its own, the moment we stop to peel away the paper and allow stillness.
The second we just let go and bask in the moment of being fully present, we realize we have found all we were ever looking for … in this sunlit moment! No need to seek answers; seek being present and your questions will dissolve.
Reflections from Turtle Lake
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