by Lesli Hill

I tell stories about my granddaughter Addie often, probably because she is so darned cute, but also because she is wiser than I am. This little 5-year old soul has the insight and clarity of life that matches a wizened old woman. Addie has an old soul – she was born that way. She has simply figured out what is important in her short life, and I am so grateful to learn from her.

I live in a small, rural town. Really rural. One traffic light, one elevator, no movie theater, but we have moved up somewhat in the franchise world in the more than 30 years I have lived there. We have a Sonic, a Subway, a Pizza Hut, and, drumroll….a McDonald’s. And of course the mandatory Walmart.

What we haven’t had until the past several years is a somewhat coordinated effort to put up Christmas lights in the downtown and harbor area where the Osage River rolls by. It’s a lovely park-like setting, and we are fortunate to have the harbor area in our little lazy town. We are also fortunate to have community leaders who want to put on a holiday show.

Last year, a few days after spending time with friends on the Kansas City Plaza soon after they turned on the 82 miles of LED lights that absolutely make me want to throw on the brakes and gawk every time I see them for the first time each season, my husband and I drove through our little town’s holiday display. I must admit that I was letting my cattiness form hair balls in my throat. Really, Lesli, Merry Christmas? I chuckled as we left the five-minute ride through……tsk tsk, I called it the “faux Plaza Lights.”

Then we decided to take Addie with us one night to get her take on the matter. As we approached the little lit tunnel, she squealed and noticed details in each display that my way too sophisticated brain glossed over with boredom befitting the Grinch.  She awed at the neon hummingbirds, the pelican that appeared to take flight from a steamboat, the fisherman on the dock who “caught a fish as the lights moved.” She wanted to go back and go through the tunnel again. And again.  Maybe four times that night.

It was a sharp reminder of how much clarity a child has and how that clarity is the path to joy.  For Addie and me, the distance through that tunnel for each of us was miles apart. It was the way we approached the experience: she with wonder, joy, and contentment of being right there at that time; me with cynicism, and yes, a little arrogance in assuming that I certainly knew the difference between real Christmas lights and those that didn’t measure up.

No doubt Addie will see the plaza lights one year soon, and no doubt she will squeal with delight at such a jaw-dropping display. But this wise soul will not think her experience this past year was diminished because she has seen something bigger, more extravagant. Wise souls don’t. They just appreciate the experience that life plops down in front of them and give it its rightful place in their memory, not something better than or something less than, but just something that was pretty on a cold December night when she was five.

Remembering this moment helps me put my pain and how it impacts my life into perspective. It reminds me that there will be days of high pain in which I cannot focus on the moments of awe. But, it also tells me that the beautiful moments of my life can’t be diminished or snuffed out because of my pain, either. We must be ready to grab those beautiful experiences as they come so that we can savor them when we need encouragement.