Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Let our Youngest Lead Us to Understanding

New Year's Eve party animal
This past New Year’s Eve I tried something different than I have in a long time. I went to a party. It wasn’t just any party though. This one was surprisingly unique, at least in my experience of attending year-end merrymaking. While about half of the folks there were commonplace, like me, the rest were extraordinary. They also were the life of the party.
The festivities started early compared to most New Year’s Eve gatherings I’d attended in the past: five in the afternoon. It ended early too, at seven p.m. Although that would be well short of midnight, the party invitation promised there’d be New Year’s countdown and ‘ball-drop’ that Dick Clark himself would have been proud of.
Like many parties, this one had gotten off to a bit of a slow start, which is common when the group consists of people who have little or no acquaintance with each other. So early on there was mostly small talk and a good bit of clinging to the ones you came with. That changed after a time, in large part due to the energy of the special guests for whom the evening was centered.
Soon some folks were eating, others were talking. Still others, the special ones, were really enjoying themselves. They were having fun playing games, banging on things and what not. See, like a lot of parties, this one had a theme. A very particular one: kids.
Now I enjoy grown-up parties as much as the next adult. But this event was designed and produced especially for young children. For most, it was their first time celebrating New Year’s Eve in this way. It was for me too. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to a child-centered affair, but what made this get-together so special, at least for me, was the fact that few people in the room knew a lot of others there. That meant folks had to step into uncertain conversations, stretch themselves.
As might be expected, the kids served as icebreakers. Moments of awkward adult silence were comfortably filled by warm words of encouragement to kids, rolling stray balls back to one tyke or another, and a general mindfulness for the safety of the particularly young ones in attendance.
When it was time, the group commenced a countdown. Instead of a glittering disco ball dropping from a Times Square skyscraper, the oldest child slowly lowered a colorful cardboard star from the ceiling to the floor. Folks kissed their partners and kids and offered well-wishes to others around the room.
There are lots of ways for different people from different places to come together in fellowship. A big one is food. Prepare the right meal (meaning something that tastes good) and watch all of a sudden how well folks can get along – especially if it’s free.
Perhaps the biggest thing people have in common with each other is kids. Granted, some adults don’t have or want them. But I’ll wager most of us have at least one child woven into their life. That sets the stage for even the strangest of strangers to have conversations – boasting and bragging on infants, or else complaining about teenagers.
               It’s a pipe dream but if I were king for a day, I’d insist on a shift in the way disputes are dealt with among people who view each other as threats or even enemies. I’d make them come to negotiations with nothing but their youngest kids, provide them with a bunch of toys, a nice spread for when they’re hungry, and let the younglings work their magic. Wonder what would happen?

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