Why in the world would I be congratulating Readers’ Digest, you ask? A fair question.
Yesterday, in the grocery store, while the kids were unloading the cart at the register, and Carson was scanning our items (they do that…:), my eyes passed over the ever-present magazine rack, which is always bulging with headlines that I take pride in not understanding: “Gwen and Lance in trouble!”; “Hannah storms out!” Whatever. Anyway, my eyes happened to catch some very small print on the cover of Readers’ Digest. It said something like, “The Happiest Photo in history. – Page 48.” Hmmm. The happiest photo in history, eh? So, there I was, actually contemplating picking up a magazine at the checkout counter — something I simply never, ever do. So, congrats RD, you made me do it. It turns out, what I found on page 48 was worth the shame.
In order that you could share in the drama, I’ve placed the photo at the very bottom of this posting, hopefully still out of sight as you read this. So, think about the happiest photo you’ve ever seen, and then scroll down and check it out. After you find out what it is, it’s better if you find a larger version online, of course.
Whad’ya think? For my part, I was overjoyed to see that it involved kids. And, quiet honestly, I’ve been thinking about the photo a whole lot since the moment I saw it. I’m sure that I’d seen it before, somewhere, a long time ago, but the detail is lost to history. Either way, I’ve already decided that a copy of it must hang in our home somewhere; I’m working on possible spots right now. If I had to boil down my gut response to the photo, I would have to say it was something like, “Yes! That’s it! Freedom! Unbridled, spontaneous, joyous play! That’s childhood!” For those of you who are perhaps not subject to tear-jerking blasts of emotion like I am (especially having to do with the kids), you may not understand just how powerfully this image hit me. It also came with bonus points – it was taken at the University of Michigan. You can read about its history at this link:
So, jump to modern times; do you think the circumstances that helped create this incredible photo could ever be replicated where you live? Kids of rather young ages, playing together, free to spot, pursue, and spontaneously engage someone or something as fascinating as a high-stepping drum major practicing his moves? To actually run after someone, without parents, without a security detail, bursting with enough genuine joy and happiness as to land them in one of America’s most famous photographs? In fact, the “happiest” photograph? My soul aches just a little bit, every time I whisper to myself, “no.” So, I ask – why not, and what the hell are we doing about it!?
Just a side note: I’m actually running out of my allotted writing time for this morning, and I’m up against the clock a bit. So, I will be brief here, and perhaps come back and update.
I regularly hear people say “the world is different today”, or “you can’t keep living in the past, dude”, or “it’s just not like that anymore”, etc. There is a whole constellation of excuses, rationalization, and “just go along with it” sort of thinking that is helping (further) destroy the traditions of free range childhood. My response, generally, can actually be framed in terms of sports. Whenever I hear someone talking about getting tickets to a big game, even the Superbowl, I always correct the inevitable “tickets are impossible to get.” I answer, “no, tickets are easy to get, you just have to pay for them.” “Well, you know what I mean.” “Yes, I do know what you mean, and I hope you know what I mean.”
Giving my kids the kind of childhood that would allow them to be in a photo like this is completely possible. We just have to pay for it. Cash doesn’t work, but time, effort, organizing, activism, and a whole alternative constellation of “can do” actions can may it happen. Do I foresee any time in the near future when I will simply throw my hands up and say “screw it, just bring them inside and sit them in front of the X-box. I’m sick of trying.” No, I don’t. My mission will become increasingly clear when I have to regularly walk past a beautifully framed reminder of exactly what’s at stake.
Go love your kids!