This old pic (left) was taken while in the Caribbean with good friends — I must have been 22 years old.
During that time, I was working as a lifeguard at the Cupertino Hills Swim and Racket Club in my late teens and early twenties. I always had favorite swimmers, and one year it was the cute-as-can-be, swim-like-a-freaking-fish Courtney. Courtney wore a faded, blue Batgirl one piece every day. She was three, possibly four years old. Courtney’s mom would bring her to the pool and then meet up with other moms and play tennis. Yes, the other lifeguards and I would joke that we were glorified day care (it was a fantastic place to work as a youth). After the mom’s tennis games, her fellow moms would often sit at a nearby picnic table, enjoy a cold drink and chitchat like young moms like to do.
So regularly, Courtney’s mom would drop her off at the pool. Courtney would stand there at the gate, visually find me and with a mischievous grin say, “Arrrrrt doooo noooot chase meeeee.” Translation: Art, please chase me. So on breaks, I would dive in and swim under her and tickle her like crazy. She giggled so hard, you could not help but giggle along with her. When sitting in a regular chair — and not the elevated lifeguard stand — Courtney would occasionally sit in my lap and pretend to be a lifeguard. She would want to blow my whistle and would be the first to enforce pool rules — no running on the pool deck, one jump on the diving board, stay out of the adult lap lanes, etc. I also remember her standing behind me as I sat on the deck and she insisted on putting suntan lotion on my back and my shoulders. She was such a good little buddy.
One day, as the moms were finishing up, Courtney, while sitting in my lap, says to me in a melodramatic way only a 4 year old can: “Art, this summer, I have rubbed suntan lotion over your entiiiiiiiire body (her arms gesturing wide and her voice growing louder to emphasize entire) except one place.”
Her mom, being a very good mom and having sonar hearing, picked up on this and audibly froze. Her reaction instantly hushed the other moms — and they were all motionless, not saying a word, staring at Courtney and me. I could see them out of the corner of my eye, petrified as their minds deliberated on their next move… what should we do? Should we stop her? Where is this going? How will Art handle this? So with a grin, I asked, “Courtney, what part of my body have you not rubbed suntan lotion on?” I felt the moms’ eyes grow wider as they all collectively sucked in a little air and were about to intervene. Courtney turns and looks at me with the biggest, bluest eyes and the funniest, you-have-got-to-be-kidding me look on her face and says, “the bottom of your feet, silly.” It was the cutest most innocent thing ever. But what really made me laugh was the collective. exhaling sigh of those at the picnic table about ready to have an apoplexy. I laughed and laughed and laughed. It still makes me chuckle to this day.
You have to love the innocence of a child — so sweet, so tender, so priceless and so angelic. A child’s smile can brighten the foulest of days. A child’s innocence can charm the most cynical hearts. That is why childlike innocence is so very precious and must be protected. That is what draws us to them and creates an instant soft spot in our hearts. It is not their physical beauty, not intrinsic sense of humor. No — it is their innocence. The one thing we love most in children is the very thing we as adults have lost.
As a young boy, I would look at adults and marvel at their maturity and experience and long for the day when I, too, would be that knowledgeable and wise. Yet, little did I know the opportunity cost for that wisdom. Little did I know I would, in turn, lose my innocence.
As I grow older, I find myself seeking to find that which I have lost. The naïve yet unwavering trust in humanity; the belief that Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are real. That others are inherently kindhearted, altruistic and mean no ill will.
Is it possible to fully regain my youthful innocence? No – I do not believe that is possible, at least not in the same construct in which I had it as a child. Nevertheless, now that I am growing older, occasionally I will fill the tug in my heart and sense my childlike innocence creeping up behind me. The sense of my innocence returning is strongest while listening to my children laugh, watching the sun rise, standing on the beach and feeling the waves break against the shore, smelling the scent of a pine forest, or the taste of cookie dough before being placed in the oven.
Perhaps the secret of happiness is unlearning all those things that were meant to make us knowledgeable, experienced and mature — all those things that turned me from a childlike, innocent little boy to a grown man.
So as we approach the weekend, I challenge you to spend it letting your inner child enjoy the break from being a judgmental, cynical, pretentious, stressed-out adult and rub suntan lotion on the bottom of your feet… silly!Tags: Art Coombs, children, Don't Just Manage -- LEAD!, innocence, leadership
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This post was written by Art