Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The purest little part of me

This afternoon, as I turned onto the sidewalk that runs along the street that crosses my own, I saw a school bus rumbling down the road. In a matter of the seconds it takes to walk a few feet down the sidewalk before crossing the street, I was taken back to those years when, every afternoon, I filed through the gym of the elementary school with all my bus-riding peers, all of us with backpack straps twisted hastily over our little shoulders. (There was also the slung-over-one-shoulder style, but we weren't that cool yet.) We would spill out onto the sidewalk with the canopy where the smell of diesel exhaust reigned, and we would scatter with the excitement of going home and with the anxiety of accidently boarding the wrong bus. But I would eventually find number 9114 among the buses lined up like a row of grungy rubber ducks and settle into my sticky faux-leather seat for the long ride home.

What astonishes me is that I am the same person who rode Karen Frederick's school bus every afternoon, swinging my little feet over the dirty bus floor and watching cornfields zoom past my window. Somewhere deep inside me, there is a self that has not changed one bit from that little girl. It's not quite as hard to comprehend that I am still that kid as it is to understand that that kid would become me. (Yeah, I'm not sure that makes sense, either.) I had in me then what it is that makes me me now.

When I think back to when I was younger -- even to my total ignorance -- I see those memories through my eyes. Not through "my eyes now" or through "my eyes then." Just through my eyes. Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but it's the circumstances that change, not us. Not the real us.

As I turned onto my own street, I was met by three boys who looked to be between the ages of seven and thirteen on bicycles. They rushed past me with their shaggy little-boy hair brushed back by the wind and with sufficiently mischievious looks on their faces. They barely acknowledged me, and even if they did take notice, they probably looked at me like I was some stodgy, old semi-adult with whom they could never relate. But I felt something different. Kindred, almost.

See, inside of them are twenty-two-year-olds that they don't recognize yet. And inside of me there is a seven- and a twelve-year-old that has never and will never go away. And inside all of us is that wizened adult who, although we'll never believe it until we reach that age along the timeline, really does understand what it's like to be us. Because we never age, really. Perhaps we understand more about the world around us, but we are who we are, forever.

It's the only evidence I have, intangible as it is, that our souls are eternal.

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