xThe VigilanceVoice

Thursday-- March 28, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 198

Riding On The Shoulders Of Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 28--If you haven't felt like a hero lately, just lift a child up on your shoulders and walk around.
         Suddenly, your life is transformed.  Problems, concerns, worries, stress, fear, doubt, intimidation--countless woes you might be hauling in your emotional backpack--all turn to feathers when a child rides on your shoulders.
         No matter how tall or short you are, how thin or heavy, how weak or strong, you become a giant when the child's hands clutch on to your forehead, and you grab hold of their ankles or feet to balance them, safeguard them from falling.
         No other feeling is quite like it--not evening holding a new-born baby.  
         The reason is a new-born has little to say with who holds it.  It hasn't yet learned who not  to trust, and therefore trusts everyone.  Babies represent pure innocence.
         But a child, say from two to ten (this is an arbitrary number I grabbed right out of the sky, and has no foundation other than my particular opinion), who climbs up on your shoulders must first issue trust in your ability to carry them.   If that trust isn't there, odds are you'll have a battle on your hands getting them up, and once you do, you'll probably put them right down as their feet kick and they scream for mercy.
        Trust, then, is the first ingredient necessary for a child and you to bond as its vehicle of Vigilance.  
         Once on your shoulders, the child transforms into a giant.  You open a whole new world for him or her.  You are his or her Lord Of The Rings guide, negotiating the child into a world of magical sights, and a sense of awe and power.  You leave behind the dismal world of Ground Zero where a child sees mostly people's rear ends, and must crane and arch their necks to see things, and then only from the bottom up.
         Walt Disney knew this dilemma well.  So he had all his engineers and construction crews kneel down so their sight lines were that of a child, and he designed Disneyland from  the child's view.   If you kneel down at Disneyland and look up Main Street, you'll see it as Walt Disney and his architects saw it--with the eyes of a child. They then set about to build the "child's perspective."
        Hoisting a child on your shoulders is the same but opposite experience.  It is the same because the child now is privy to another viewpoint, just for him or her.   It is opposite because instead of looking up or at things, the child looks down and at things.
        There is a whole other world to feast upon when you are three times taller than normal.  A three-foot child becomes a nine-foot giant when riding on a parent's or loved one's shoulders.    The magic is inversely proportional to the height.
        You become their steed, their charger, their ticket to a world of fabulous fantasy wrapped in reality.   They now tower over those who dwarfed them when you walk.  They can see in windows.    They can swat at tree branches that once seemed so far away they might not have noticed the budding flowers and leaves that explode to life as Spring dawns.
        Because they are not walking (worrying about ducking the dog poop on the sidewalk, or dodging the people passing by, or fretting over taking two or three steps to your one to keep up, or being pulled along the rushing tides of people) their heads swivel in a slow pan, as though they were behind a movie camera soaking up the scenes of color and lights and hustle and bustle that only an eagle can see.
       And you become them.
       The adult in you fades away as the child rides on your shoulder--the adult that worries so about the mundane tapestry of life--bills, work, fame, fortune, dieting, projects, deadlines--all evaporate as the child asks questions or chatters like a magpie about the things he or she sees.
       Your eyes begin to see what the child sees.  Things you might have never noticed before loom into sharp focus.    You see a black standing pipe spearing up the side of ten-story apartment, and on it some artist has painted foot prints walking up the pipe.  Under normal conditions you might never notice the scene, but with the child on your shoulders you are now looking for things to explore, magic to unfold.
       "See, Matt, see the tall pipe and the footsteps?"
       "Where, G-Pa?"   His head ratchets around.
       You stop on the sidewalk, oblivious to people passing by.  You are in search of hidden treasure with the child, discovering jewels of life reflecting all around on canvasses you never took the time to study.
       "I see it, G-Pa.   I bet Santa made them!"
       "Naw," you say, "Spiderman left them!"
       "No, G-Pa, that's like a chimney.  And Santa goes into houses through chimneys.  So it's gotta be Santa's footprints!"
       You saw Spiderman.  He saw Santa.  It doesn't matter who is right, because both are.  You have become one.
        You are the child's legs, his or her carrier, the engine of exploration.   The child speaks to you in a language unlike the one he or she uses when you just sit and talk, or walk and talk.   Atop your shoulders, a child is your alter-ego, your "Voice within," reminding you of worlds you have forgotten, of places you never saw, of images that have become desiccated by time and age and narrow focus that robs adults of their innocence and blinds many to life itself.
        You transform into a true Sentinel of Vigilance.   Each step you take is more careful than any step you might take by yourself, for you hold above you the future of life itself.  People passing you by who might normally never look at you in their haste to get from point "A" to point "B" smile at the two of you.  Some nod.  Others admire. Some are envious.
        They see the oneness of parent and child, grandparent and child, loved one and child.   They may be remembering the days when they rode on their parents' or grandparents' shoulders, or when their children rode on theirs, and they glow, radiating the wistfulness of times past, good times, joyful, secure, happy times.
        They also see the Sentinel of Vigilance in you.   They can tell by your hands on the child's legs, guarding his or her safety above you, that you represent a wall of protection for the child, and your willingness to allow the child to ride on your shoulders is your signet of Vigilance, your announcement to the world that this child is protected, cared for, loved in a special way.
        Fear, Intimidation and Complacency have no room to exist when you carry a child on your shoulders.  These composites of  Terrorism flee when you lift the child up and place it above you, similar to how a priest elevates the chalice toward heaven, announcing to the world that there is a "higher order," an omnipotence that exceeds you.
        In your case, it is the well-being of the child.   You become Courage, Conviction and Action for the child.   You grow stronger in the child's eyes, and in the eyes of all who see the two of you.
       You are the child's Eagle of Vigilance.   You carry the child above the madness of the world, where the air is clear and charged with excitement of sights and sounds and imagination that cannot be sparked from ground level.
        But there is a cost to such Vigilance.   Your legs eventually wear.   Your shoulders ache.   You walk with much more caution.   And then there is the tough moment when you must put the child down because you worry about weakening your ability to remain stable as your muscles grind under the added weight.
       So you tell the child before you start:  "I'm going to carry you for a few blocks, then we'll walk a little, then I'll carry you some more.  Sound okay with you?"
        That covenant keeps the child from thinking you have abandonment when you put him or her down.  At least, it makes me feel better to say it. So when my knees start to give or the muscles twitch and my balance seems to be sapping, I just remind my passenger we're going to walk a little, and then I'll put you back up.
        One warning:  it's addictive.   When you let a child ride on your shoulders and talk with the child about what they see, and "see" what they see, you realize there is a world beyond yours, one that you once held in your grip but that adulthood and reality squeezed from your grasp.
        You envy that world of innocence and imagination, and realize it is open to you through the eyes of the child, through his or her questions that you answer the best you can. 
        I have found the most heartfelt discussions with my grandchildren occur when they are on my shoulders.   Things that might never be said are spoken, questions that might never be asked are proffered because there is this bond of trust flowing between the two of you as you walk as one.  This union allows for magic to flow unencumbered between the two of you.
        Matt asked me the question: "What Happens After People?" when he was on my shoulders the other day. (See yesterday's story).  That question might never have been asked when he was walking at my side, or on a park bench while we ate a slice of pizza.  But on my shoulders, his hands clutching at my ears and forehead, his feet secured, there was a union and intersect of our two souls, adult and child, teacher and student, grandson and grandfather, man and boy.
      I knew when Matt was riding on my shoulders I was his Sentinel of Vigilance, keeping him alert and aware of the world around him.   And, I also knew he was my Sentinel of Vigilance, keeping me alert and aware of the world around me.   We helped each other open our eyes and hearts to one another and the world we live in--all because we became "one" through riding on each other's shoulders.

 Go To Mar. 27--What Happens After People?

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