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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Kay Hagar


There is nothing like being with children to make you feel young at heart.  Here I am with my grandson this Christmas, preparing for my first ride down the sledding hill near my son's house in Utah.  Last year I declined the opportunity due to a neck problem but if the truth were to be told, I was also a little afraid.  Ridiculous I know, but that kind of reticence has been with me all my life.  Turning 70 and looking for my more playful self, I decided that this year, I wanted to give it a try.

When my grandson asked if I was going to go down the hill this year, I told him I was going to have to get my nerve up, in order to do it.  As kids do, he pondered that old expression.  What are your nerves, he wanted to know and how do you get them up.  I explained the best I could.  The conversation went on, "Maybe your nerves will just rain down from the sky, go into you, and fill you up," he proposed.  I told him that for me, it was an inside job.  I had to gather the energy inside of me and concentrate the power to give it a try.

Getting to the sledding hill was a challenge in itself, in the knee deep snow.  It was hard to keep my balance and crawling under bushes laden with snow along the buried pathway wasn't easy either.  Though I almost turned back, I did finally make it to the sledding hill.  The kids were immediately zooming down the hill and pulling their sled back up as fast as they could, so they could zoom down once again.   Characteristically, I watched for awhile, trying to assess whether I was really up for this thrill.  The sledding track was leaving everyone in the bushes or perilously close to the icy river at the bottom.  I felt a little sheepish as I watched even three year old Alex have no hesitation at all.  I found myself thinking maybe Andrew was right, getting my nerve up might be affected by the world outside of me.

At one point, Andrew announced to all that if I was going to give it a try, my nerves were going to have to "rise up."  As he said this he raised his hands from his belly up the sky.  My son made an easier track that headed in a safer looking direction and they all advised me to go now before it got slicker, so I climbed into the big inner tube.  This was enormously entertaining to all of my family.  My first thought was that someone was going to have to go down the hill and help me get out!   Andrew tried to give me a push but it didn't send me flying.  More came to push and down I went, spinning around so I was flying backwards which brought more hysterical laughter from all including me, such hysterical laughter on my part that I was literally laughing and crying at the same time.  My glasses fogged so that I couldn't see a thing.  I was glad to come to a stop at the bottom.  I did manage to get myself out of the tube though I had to have an arm to help me get to the trail that went up the hill again.

I watched the others for awhile and then announced that I wanted to try it again.  In I climbed and they gave me a push but somehow this time the tube veered onto the faster track.  This was a much longer and faster ride.  I couldn't see a thing as the world sped by me, but I heard the frightened cries of, "Oh no!" from above, as well as much laughter, I must say. Rather than try to slow myself down, my instincts were to duck, trying to cover my face and head.  I hit the bushes and came to an abrupt stop. My son must have gotten a head start when he saw my ride going bad as he was by my side instantly. I couldn't speak I was laughing so hard.   "Its good you are laughing," he said as I tried to regain my composure.  I stayed at the bottom of the hill as energy was waning and soon we would be heading home for warmth and a steaming cup of hot chocolate.  

The exuberance of spending Christmas with a three year old and a six year old knows no end.  From leaving cookies and milk out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer to present opening and playing with all their new toys, it was a time of abundance and joy.  Magic as seen through the eyes of a child is absolutely life giving.  

The days seemed to zoom by and soon we were saying our tearful good byes.  I left the snowy magic of Utah the day after Christmas.  The airport was crowded.  Without time for lunch I grabbed a bag of nuts and something to drink as I hurried to my plane.  Travel during the holidays can be trying!  Glad to be on board, I got myself settled.  I was happy to have a book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier, by Thad Carhart, for the ride back to California.  Wanting to forget the sad goodbyes, I opened it and lost myself in that story for duration of the flight.  

My mind was filled with pianos and piano music as I stepped off the plane and found my way to the baggage claim area.  I decided to get some exercise while I was waiting for my suitcase as I still had the long drive to Mendocino ahead of me.  I was walking in circles around the baggage area when the most beautiful piano music came out of nowhere.  My head was so full of thoughts of pianos from my recent immersion in my book that I was amazed to be hearing piano music, and wondered for a moment if it was real.  Searching for where this sound was coming from, I saw a young boy sitting behind his Yamaha keyboard at the corner of the baggage area.  He was playing complicated classical music fluidly and expressively. I stopped in my tracks and listened.  A Beethoven Sonata was filling the space and I watched as it changed the whole feeling of that big cavernous room. Looking around, I  saw others seeking out the source of this beautiful music.  Smiles appeared on faces that had seemed tired and impassive.  A baby who had been frantically crying since he got off the plane stopped instantly.  Bored children turned their heads.  One young girl, unable to stop herself, twirled away from her parents side and began pirouetting into an open area.  I wanted to join her but the adult in me nixed the plan.  The room became animated with a joyous energy that all the young ones seemed anxious to surrender to.

I was amazed to see that there were some adults who didn't seem to hear the music at all.  I wondered how that was even possible. Then behind me I heard a little boy ask his mother, "Is that boy really playing the piano."  Dragging him behind her, I saw the mother glance over to the keyboard and its player.  "No, he is faking it." she declared as she pulled her son along, rushing him to their destination.  I guess she just couldn't believe one so young could possibly be doing that.  Clearly everyone was not captured by this magical moment.

But I felt like the magic of Utah had followed me home!  This joyous energy of the young was floating like a gossamer cloud around me, now floating around all here who stopped long enough to notice.   He played piece after piece as I waited for my bag.  I walked over and put a little money in his bucket.  Children were begging their parents to let them do the same.  People were smiling at one another in recognition and appreciation.  As I left the terminal rolling my suitcase behind me, I felt completely uplifted and ready for my long drive home.   I felt like I had been given a huge gift that put an exclamation point to my holiday travels.

On my long drive home, I thought of Andrew and Alex, the young musician at the airport, and the little girl merrily twirling around in the empty spaces of the crowded baggage area.  Their joy was palpable.  I'm afraid we adults hide ours inside our habits, and our sophistication.  Our burdens and responsibilities don't help either, I suppose.  Life can become so serious!  A friend recently shared a dream with me.  In this dream he visits an old friend named Joy, and weeps at the beauty of her memory.  Joy is a beautiful thing to behold.  It lives differently inside me than it did when I was a child.  I recognize it most easily now in those spontaneous moments when my heart bursts forth with gratitude, and I find myself giving thanks for this beautiful life.   

Joy can burst onto a child's face on a moments notice and their bodies explode with matching energy.  They are a wonderful reminder of joy in its essence.  Perhaps we can't all stay that young and fresh in our responses but we can remain open to that spontaneous spark and let ourselves celebrate life.  I leave you with this song which has been with me forever.  As I age it gives me something to aim for and tremendous reassurance that it is possible.


When the name for my business, For The Joy Of It! first came to me it was about my piano teaching.  My heart felt desire for myself and my students was to rediscover the joy of expressing ourselves through music.  I felt that talent and natural ability, though wonderful if you had it, was not the most important thing at the core of the musical experience. What was important was rediscovering the joy we had as children when we "played" in the arts.  Later as I became an expressive arts therapist, I came to believe that the same is true of all the arts.  Expressing ourselves that way is at the core of being human and playing in the arts can take us back to that magical child who can imagine anything as possible.  For years, I have carried around the words of the potter, M.C. Richards.  As I age, I find myself living ever more deeply into those words, "All the arts we practice are apprenticeship.  The big art is our life." 

Playing in all the arts has been an important part of my attempt to stay "young at heart."  If you are not used to doing art, a good way to start is to make a scribble drawing.  Colored pens are fun to use.  For paper you can even use newspaper if you like, whatever is handy.  You are not responsible for how this looks, it doesn't matter.  Just enjoy the movement of your hand and arm as you scribble away.   Watch the color go on the paper.  Make several if you like.  Scribble until you are done with scribbling!  Then put a pen in your non-dominant hand and write whatever wants to come out.

Later, write in your journal about the experience.  Enjoy yourself!

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