March 28, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 198
Riding On The Shoulders Of Vigilance
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?"
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Go To Mar. 27--What Happens After