I sat glued to the television Thursday morning, watching, horrified, as the story of the doomed Malaysian Air flight unfolded. As the details revealed themselves, including that it was not only possible but likely that the plane was shot down, my mood sank. And then, the television reporters told of Israel’s ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, only a day after Israeli airstrikes had killed at least four Palestinian children playing at the beach. The final blow was that some bombs exploded in Iraq, killing several people. When I was in Afghanistan, I often feared that all hell could break loose anywhere, any time. And yesterday, I remembered those fears.
Max and I were to leave for a Missouri Bar Board of Governor’s conference later in the day, and while I had looked forward to it, my anticipation was squashed because of the day’s events. Our drive to Springfield was quiet, but we decided to eat dinner at Aviary, an unusual restaurant on the south side of town.
We decided to eat outside because the weather was so mild — almost chilly — and began to relax, trying to leave the unsettling day behind. We ordered dinner and then turned our attention to a table of six children seated about 10 feet from us. Suddenly, our moods were lifted by these little children, the oldest of whom was about seven, none of whom had any knowledge, understanding, or concern about what had happened in a different part of the world.
The two little boys and four little girls, curly-haired, cotton-top blonds, were eating breakfast — bacon and pancake crepes drowned in syrup, chocolate chip crepes, fruit crepes — and they were enjoying every last bite. Their parents, who were sitting at a table next to them, were keeping a watchful eye on them.
All the children were dressed to the nines; all the girls had on balloon bracelets they had presumably bought at the Farmers’ Market right around the corner. The littlest girl had her feet tucked up underneath her so that she could sit on the chair and reach the table, and the smaller boy dropped his fork and had to wait for his mother to pick it up, because he was too little to get down from the chair without help.
The children finished their feast before their parents — of course — and then asked to go play. Their parents cleaned the food from the smaller children’s faces and then set them on the concrete patio so they could go chase each other up and down a concrete staircase at the end of the patio. They were in full view all the time, running up and down the stairs, sliding down the banister, and jumping from one stair level to another.
At one point, the littlest girl’s balloon bracelet popped, her face wrinkled up, and she burst into tears. Her dutiful father took her to the Farmer’s Market and bought her another, which she carefully wore, even when the oldest girl decided that popping the balloons would be fun. The littlest defended her new bracelet while the others made all kinds of noise popping balloons and squealing with delight as each exploded.
As dusk turned darker, the children expanded their play to the grassy area by our table, the oldest boy lying down in the grass and pronouncing it cool. At that point, the wise parents, knowing bedtime was just a bath away, said it was time to go, and then the littlest’s bracelet popped again. She cried as her father picked her up and carried her to their waiting car.
Max and I looked at each other and smiled. Just like that, the world had become small enough for us to concentrate on life without a care, where joy was right up the staircase, happiness was sliding down a banister, and explosions were only popping balloons. We breathed easier, because for those few minutes anyway, all was good in the world.