It's not that adults don't want kids to be happy. Most adults love their kids. We just don't want them to overindulge in fun and consequently become indolent. This time of year, caring parents are indeed shedding tears as they drop their children off at school for the first time. Many of the kids cry too as they, for the first time, anticipate extended time away from the warmth of families and homes. Granted, best friends will be made, minds will imagine new possibilities, and future spouses might be met. But the coming of school reminds us that this life involves alienation from ultimate peace. It is the end of dream time and the beginning of a regimented time. Make no mistake; I am an educator and don't homeschool my boys. I send them to school and am grateful for that opportunity. But when I reflect on the sorrow of returning to school, I have in mind a cosmic sorrow about our human reality, not the inconvenience of having to do good old fashioned work.
These days, when I check Facebook, I see several first-day-of-school pictures of my friends' children. One recent post caught my attention. It included a picture of a sad boy going off to kindergarten. His mother commented: "If this picture also showed the tears streaming down his face, then it would correctly represent how the first day of kindergarten drop-off went. Oh man. I'm tired." Unseen tears. That's what's going on, and we are too old and cynical to remember it. I'm sure the lad eventually had a great day, and future mornings will be more cheerful. But the photo really got to me, since it captured a facet of our collective human tragedy.
Dr. Paul Fairweather, a highly regarded WWII fighter pilot, innovative psychologist, and therapist to many of my friends, understood and described this tragedy well. He suggested that a person experiences a series of events from the womb to the tomb, that cut him or her off from spiritual intimacy and a sense of peace.
"His parents teach him that he should feel at peace with life, but in their very way of living there is an implicit demand that he, the child, dispel their own doubts about the promise of life. In this he is asked to perpetuate the very uneasiness which throws doubt on the meaning of his own existence. Thus he learns no longer to recognize the promise as his own. Moreover, he begins to question its reality. At the same time, he has a deep, perhaps unacknowledged sense of loss. His life has become a contradictory response to this sense of promise: he at once desires it and distrusts it. He finds himself confronted by the problem of consciousness, for the discrepancy between the individual's sense of promise and his experience of life is the problem of consciousness." --Paul Fairweather, Symbolic Regression Psychology (Irvington, 1981), 2.
By the way, as we reflect on children returning to school, we can also remember to carve out space for peace and play in our own lives. The Jewish principle of Sabbath is a reminder that we will whither in our vocations if we never step off the treadmill of life. Take joy in moments of frivolity; you aren't simply an employee. You are a man or woman for whom a whole world stands open. What's keeping you from the joy of play?