Dean Poling: Of the man who saw old children

·3 min read

May 21—A TALE

Behind every adult face, he saw a child.

Not that these adults were childish, though much to the surprising discovery of many young people, childish behavior doesn't end with childhood. It quite often continues through old age. But rather, he often found himself seeing adults as childlike.

He could see the child within the adult face.

He would be talking to someone, discussing some serious matter, and the person would say something, or make a facial expression, or some hand gesture, maybe an unexpected shrug of the body, and he could see that person as he or she was as a child.

He would imagine that person as a child playing, happy singing a nonsense song, free and laughing. Or he would see them as a child confused, or scared and in need of solace or correction.

Seeing adults as children, he realized, made him fond of more people. It is hard not to be fond of a child, and he would often smile a childlike smile of his own upon encountering people. He developed a fondness for people as if they were all children.

Given his increasing age, in many ways, they almost all were children to him, or had been children once while he was already an adult, and he had been an adult now for many years.

Yet, dealing with a world of children can be frustrating.

Think of dealing with one or two children then imagine seeing the child within everyone you encounter. Not just the childlike but the childish: Temper tantrums, name calling, bullying, whining, pleading, teasing, and a thousand other cruelties which children visit upon other children, which as children we think will end with childhood.

But, as already mentioned, such behavior does not end with childhood.

More often than not, the real brats are adults.

He would run across this behavior and he realized that he often talked to adults as he had once spoke to his own children. His voice filling with correction and discipline. He struck quite a tone, which left some adults sulking as a child might sulk after being disciplined. His corrective voice spawned rebellion in others, in the way a stubborn child might stand up to a parent.

Even then, he could see the child behind the adult face. He would soften and he felt a forgiveness toward them, as if toward good children who have misbehaved.

It seemed the older he got, the younger the world became.

But this was not entirely true.

Having lived a lifetime of seeing the adults of his parents' generation grow old and having seen his generation of childhood friends become adults and grow old, he could also see within each face of these younger adults, these same adults which he saw as the children who had inherited the world, in each one of their faces, he saw what they would look like in old age when they were his age, if they made it to his age.

He saw the fragility of flesh in time. He saw the now, the then and what was coming. It made him a little sad and a little fonder of all the children growing old.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and editor of The Tifton Gazette.