Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

4-year-olds show wisdom on religion

May 9, 2004


So I was pedaling along on my bicycle, towing a little kiddie trailer that contained my daughter, Sophie, and her friend Sofia. I like to tow Sophie when she has a friend with her, because they quickly forget that I'm up there pedaling, so I can listen in on their conversations and find out what is on the minds of 4-year-old children. Usually it's something like this:

FIRST CHILD: You're a tree head! (Wild giggling)

SECOND CHILD: No, YOU'RE a tree head! (Wild giggling)

FIRST CHILD: You're a pinecone head! (Wild giggling)

SECOND CHILD: No, YOU'RE a pinecone head! (Wild giggling)

And so it goes, for mile after insight-filled mile. But sometimes they have serious discussions back there, and on this particular bicycle ride, the topic turned to religion.

I should explain that my wife is Jewish, and I am not. We celebrate Hanukkah, but we also celebrate Christmas, which means that each year we open presents, sing songs and eat high-carbohydrate foods for roughly 137 days in a row. It's a good deal for Sophie who, as children do, has adapted effortlessly to her parents' different religious heritages. We've told her that Mommy's family comes from one place, and Daddy's family comes from another place, but the important thing is we all love each other, and we always try to be nice to everybody, and we wash our hands after we go potty. These are our core values.

Sophie goes to a Jewish preschool, and every now and then she comes home with a story from the Old Testament, which she sometimes acts out using her dolls. For example, Barbie, who is generally not regarded as Egyptian, has played the role of the Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued Baby Moses from the River Nile. The River Nile was played by a bath towel. The Baby Moses was played by Ranjan, the impish little Indian boy from Disney's "Jungle Book." Ranjan, a versatile doll actor, has also played the role of the baby Jesus.

So anyway, on this particular bicycle ride, some story from preschool bubbled into Sophie's brain, and she and Sofia had the following conversation, back there in the buggy:

SOPHIE: Do you want me to tell you a story I learned about the Jewish people?

SOFIA: What is the Jewish people?

SOPHIE: That means they're Jewish.

SOFIA: But what IS Jewish?

SOPHIE: Well, it means you're the Jewish people, and you're Jewish. My Mommy is Jewish, but my Daddy isn't Jewish, because his family didn't come from the same place. My Mommy comes from Miami, so she's Jewish.

SOFIA: But what IS Jewish?

SOPHIE: It means you're the Jewish people, and you come from Miami. My Daddy didn't come from Miami, but he lived in Miami for a long time. So maybe now he could be Jewish.

SOFIA: But I live in Miami. Am I Jewish?

SOPHIE: Well, if you live in Miami, you could be Jewish, or you could not be Jewish.

SOFIA: But what IS Jewish?

Unfortunately, just at that point we reached our destination, so the buggy conversation didn't come to any definitive conclusion. But what I liked was the relaxed and open attitude they had about the issue of what religion everybody was, in contrast to the way this issue is often dealt with among adults:

FIRST ADULT: God says I'm right!

SECOND ADULT: No, God says I'M right!

FIRST ADULT: You're a pinecone head!


And so on. What's my point? Just this: If people of all different faiths -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Yankee fans -- spent some time together, talking AND listening to each other, maybe -- just maybe -- we'd all begin to see that, despite our differences, deep down inside, all of us, except for some of the Yankee fans, are human beings, riding together in the buggy of life. Is that being too naive?

Ha ha! I'm an idiot. Of COURSE that's being too naive. So I'll just close with my auxiliary backup point, which is: Little girls sure are cute.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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