Children can be so very surprising. They come into the world as globs of muscle, flesh, slobber, and tears. They are utterly dependent upon their parents for everything, and yet they open our eyes to a new world. Everything is brand new, and as they take in color and light, as their hands stroke a kitten’s fur or their face nuzzles into the snuggles of a puppy, it’s as if we are experiencing those things for the first time alongside them. The awe in their eyes as they reach out to touch a blade of grass or hear notes from a piano for the first time strikes a sense of wonder in us.
We often live vicariously through our children’s experiences and are sometimes reminded of our own firsts.
When my son or one of my two daughters gets a new Lego set for a birthday or Christmas gift, we immediately put it together, following the instructions so we can replicate what we see on the box. But the real fun comes later. On lazy Saturdays, we dump out a bin filled with different Lego pieces, a hodgepodge of shapes and colors from who knows how many different sets. And we just build, connecting pieces in sequence and order as thoughts and ideas come to our minds. A spaceship here, a fort there, an all-terrain rover that can handle carpet, hardwood, and the vertical climb up the side of a couch.
There is no limit to what we can build… no rules to adhere to. We just create… using the pieces available to make something new.
Whenever I sit on the floor and build alongside my children, I am reminded of when I used to spend hours doing the same thing as a kid. One of my first memories of Legos is a warm summer day where my siblings and I spread out a blanket on the grass in our front yard and dumped out our own bin of miscellaneous pieces. I must have been four or five. There we sat, using whatever pieces were available to make something new.
With each passing year, I spent less and less time building with Legos and turned my creativity toward writing stories or poems. A different medium, but still I created. But as I became an adult, I created less and less.
Anytime I hear the word “creativity”, I immediately think of paintings, drawings, music, or literature. And it’s easy to limit creativity to categories such as these. But the word comes from the Latin term creō, which simply means to create or make. Not creating a painting, illustrating a drawing, composing music, or writing a book… just create or make. The vast majority of individuals don’t find themselves in careers where they create art, write books, or compose music, but everyone is capable of so much creativity. However, most of us lose sight of it as we grow older and, as a result, miss out on a lot of the beauty that exists around us… until we see the world through the eyes of our children and sometimes through the eyes of a friend who never lost his creativity.
Justin and I have been best friends our entire lives. Born in the same hospital with just over 36 hours between us, we don’t have memories where we aren’t apart of each other’s world. What we do have is a lifetime of building forts, playing with Legos, and riding bikes. We have stories of camping trips, dates gone wrong, run-ins with wild animals, and photos of being best man in each other’s wedding.
We also have shared adventures all over the world despite Justin now living life from a wheelchair.
While I wrote stories and poems in my early teens, Justin drew and painted. His need to create was insatiable as pieces of art poured from him. When he was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease during our junior year of high school, he developed a severe limp in his left leg and required a brace to walk, but he still created beautiful pieces. When the disease jumped to his right leg and walking became a chore, he continued to pursue a degree in art and design. When he met his wife, he was using his creativity to build a career in graphic design that would support his soon to be family. In 2006, when Justin had to give up walking altogether and began using a manual wheelchair, he was building a solid career as a freelance designer. And when he lost the use of his hands in 2010, he used his creativity to face the struggles of his disease.
I watched Justin relearn how to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, and button a shirt at least six times. Now he needs someone else to do it for him. I watched as my friend relearned how to hold a cup or cut his food. Now his wife, his kids, or I have to feed him. But, even though Justin has lost so much use of his body, he still can use his computer to design using voice automated software, a few functioning fingers and a whole lot of grit. He even did the watercolor to the illustrations of a children’s book I wrote.
Watching my friend journey down a path I wouldn’t wish on anyone has opened my eyes to the endless potential we all have to create. Justin hasn’t just applied creativity to his career in design; he has used it to navigate the many challenges of his disease. Where many people would give up, Justin takes the pieces he has and makes something new. He applies creativity to every aspect of life; from traveling internationally to getting in and out of peoples homes that aren’t necessarily accessible; he sees what is available and creates new ways to get on and off planes or in and out of buildings. Life has forced him to either create new ways to live or wallow in his struggles and pain. He chooses the former. As a result, I find myself reconnecting with my own creativity.
This mentality embraces the fact that all things made, all experiences had, all relationships possessed are created and therefore are filled with creative possibilities. They are filled with endless opportunities to take the pieces we have been given and make something new.
My hope as a father is that I will never stop looking for ways to create with my children. Whether it is with Legos, music, art, building bike ramps, exploring science experiments, discussing social issues, debating religion, or navigating hard relationships, I want them to know they can always take the pieces they have and make something new.