The Art of Mirriam Neal

//dear amelia

At the park by the Atlanta Zoo, there’s a playground. The weather today was perfect; overcast and warm, with a breeze that smelled like autumn. I was out with two sisters plus nephew, and after a picnic under the trees we headed to the playground at my nephew’s request. We had it to ourselves, except for a little girl and her babysitter. I swung on the swing set (because you’re never too old, plus it’s therapeutic – like pillow fights, or running in the rain), letting my mind wander until the little girl ran up to the swing to my left. You faced the opposite direction and said, “I’m going to look this way and swing.”

                “You go,” I encouraged. “Do that.”

                You sat down and began slowly, swinging a few more inches each time. You were a blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty with a pink unicorn on your shirt.

                “What’s your name?” I asked you.

                “Amelia,” you said.

                “That’s a really pretty name. I’m Mirriam. Think you can get as high as me?”

                You began to swing faster. “Yes!”

                I slowed down a little to even the odds. “How old are you?”

                “Five. I’ll be six soon.”

                “Six is a great age. That was my first zoo trip,” I told you. “I’m twenty-one.”

                I thought you might fall off the swing as you squealed, “My mom is twenty-one!” Your eyes widened. “And you still swing?”

                “I do,” I said enthusiastically. “It gets even better. Swinging at twenty-one is the best. Does your mom still swing?”

                For the first time, you looked sad. “No,” you said, shaking your head, brightening again as you added, “But she taught me how!”

                “Then you have a great mom.”

                “Yeah.” You nodded. “Moms are pretty cool, I guess.”

                “My mom is,” I agreed.

                “I have a sister,” you informed me.

                “Older, or younger?”

                “She’s one. She’s kind of boring, but it’s neat to have a sister.”

                I smiled. “Two of my sisters are over there.” I pointed them out, along with my nephew. “He’s eight,” I told you. “His birthday is soon, too.”

                “I’m having a tea party,” you told me, now nearly level with me, your legs propelling your steadily higher.

                “Oh, that sounds like fun. I used to have lots of tea parties,” I told you. “Is it like an Alice in Wonderland party?”

                “Yeah,” you said. “I have a bike.”

                I rolled with the new subject. “Do you ride it a lot?”

                “Yeah. I want to ride around you.” You pointed at the circle of pavement, dusted with wood chips from the playground.

                “Right now?”

                “Yeah!” You slowed down and jumped off the swing, racing across the playground and climbing over a few of the obstacles. I watched as you clambered onto your small blue bicycle, with silver streamers flying from the handlebars. As you began to ride around the playground, you waved at me, with a bright smile on your face.

                It was time to leave; for you and for us, but as you walked away with your babysitter you turned and shouted an enthusiastic “BYE!”

                I waved. “Bye! Have fun at your tea party!”

                Your smile was big while you pedaled away, down the curve of the sidewalk as the breeze blew leaves off the trees overhead.

                There are things I wanted to say to you. I wanted to tell you how beautiful you were. I wanted to tell you to remember this; these days of swinging on the playground and talking openly with everyone you meet. I wanted to tell you to keep that fearlessness, and that innate trust that everyone around you is good and everything around you is magical.

                I didn’t have time, and that wasn’t my job. I hope your young mother tells you those things. I hope you remember that she taught you how to swing, and I hope you find your sister interesting once she’s a little older. Maybe soon you’ll be taking her to the playground.

                I didn’t tell you these things, but I hope you remember the woman you met when you were five, and I hope you remember that swinging only gets better. I hope you remember your competition to swing higher, higher than me, and the fact you almost made it. I hope you never stop swinging. I hope you, Amelia, with your pink unicorn shirt and little blue bicycle, are always young enough to hop on the swing set and say hello to the stranger next to you.

                Thank you for meeting me, and when you’re twenty-one, I hope you’re still swinging as high as you can.

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