“Hi, Pauline. Hi, Pauline!”
A woman with spiky blonde hair looked across the street to see who was calling her. On the other side of the road stood a girl of eleven or twelve years of age. The woman addressed as “Pauline” waved and the girl smiled with delight. Turning to go into the supermarket, she seemed delighted at so small a gesture.
It seems odd to be able to remember times when such things would have transformed a moment, to be able to step back the forty-five years to being eleven or twelve when a friendly greeting from and adult made one feel important. Whoever Pauline was, there was no need even for her to speak, for her to acknowledge the girl was sufficient. What happened to that childhood delight in the ordinary, in things as simple as an adult’s wave?
Perhaps it was about a need for affirmation, the feeling we mattered more if adults took notice of us, even the feeling that we mattered more than others, if adults took notice of us? Wasn’t there always competition for the attention of the teacher, or of the youth leader? Of course, by the time one was twelve years old, it wasn’t just the attention of adults that one sought, even a glance across the classroom from a pretty girl was enough to make a whole day special.
Wasn’t it about more than a need for affirmation, though? Wasn’t it about a fundamentally different set of priorities? What mattered at twelve years old was people, what mattered was one’s relationships with people.
In primary school days, there must have been people from a wide diversity of backgrounds in our village school. There were children of middle class professionals; there were children of farmers; there were those of us from working families who lived in council houses; yet there is not one moment in memory where there was any talk of people being different because their parents had more money or less money than the parents of others in the classroom. Wasn’t it because we saw the world differently?
Friendships, contact, recognition, smiles and waves, they were not things with cash value; they were not things that were sold, they were not things that were bought; they were priceless because they were things to which no price was attached. Only with the passage of years do things become different, only when we see start to see life as about things and not as about people do we lose the joy of being twelve.