On my way to work this morning, I was proposed to. No, it was not by any of the members of the hipster trio that live in the apartment below mine. No, it was not by one of my few straight male co-workers (I intern at a fashion magazine after all…). And no, it was not by anyone I’ve dated or even met prior to my 9:00a.m. subway ride. Today I was proposed to by a four-year-old boy.
I didn’t mean to be proposed to; it just sort of happened. I took my seat next to a woman and her curly-haired, bright-eyed munchkin and pulled out my copy of The Elephant Vanishes, ready to spend the train ride immersed in Murakami. It must’ve been the small photo of the elephant on the book’s cover that caught the child’s interest, as he soon started asking me questions about said elephant and what the book was about. I didn’t quite know how to explain that. Like his novels, Murakami’s short stories are often filled with death, peculiar sexual encounters and fantasies or McDonald’s robberies. I simply went with, “It’s about a disappearing elephant.” The boy seemed to like this answer, and proceeded to ask me about myself. He was rather assertive and chatty for a 4-year-old, and I couldn’t help but feel he was wise beyond his years. The mother was adding a few lines to the conversation here and there, apologizing for her talkative son as though he were a nuisance. He wasn’t, of course. He was endearing. But all of a sudden the conversation took a turn, and suddenly he had proposed. It was a simple proposal, one that I can recollect with full clarity:
“You’re really nice; will you marry me?”
He said the words with a giggle and quickly shadowed his eyes in embarrassment. I couldn’t help but laugh as well, and even his preoccupied mother gave a small chuckle. She replied before I had the chance, saying, “That’s silly, sweetie, don’t you want to marry someone your own age?” Before he got a chance to counter her argument, it was my time to get off the subway. I said goodbye and told the mother that she had a very sweet kid.
As I walked the few blocks from the subway to the office, it suddenly occurred to me that this little boy had proposed because of the simple fact that he had decided I was nice. He didn’t say, “you’re really pretty” or even “you smell nice.” He said I was nice. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a child propose to an adult — I’m sure, in fact, we’ve all seen this happen from time to time on sitcoms or the CW. Actually, I think it is my second proposal by someone under the age of 10, the first being the boy I babysat in high school. However, it’s the first time I really thought about it from the child’s perspective. It’s the first time I realized this is another example of how unburdened children are by the stigmas of the world. They can find beauty in the simplest things; they will like people based on whether they are kind or mean — not big or small, or thin or fat . I often wish I was more closely connected to my child-self, but it seems like it is a disconnect inevitable with the passing of time — with the more time spent out there as opposed to in the worlds we can still imagine as kids.
I think I have only met one or two people in my entire life who have seemed at all in-tune with the person they were as a child. I don’t mean those girls who act like kids even when they’re in their early 20s. What I mean is something much more heartfelt than that. It’s much more to do with a manner of thinking. My suitor this morning probably wasn’t thinking that I was especially attractive, and he probably didn’t think of me in terms of “fat” or “skinny” either — his ultimate decision came from thinking and deciding that I was kind, and so I must be a good person. I just can’t help but wonder why the concept of judging others based on whether they are “nice” or “mean” seems so simple, and so effective, yet we, as adults, rarely think in those terms. There are always the “buts” and “ands”, like, “he’s really nice, but he’s in a fraternity,” or “she’s really nice but she’s just a bit too chunky…and she likes Lady Gaga.” And I catch myself wishing we could just get rid of the latter parts and think of things in the simpler form. I just wonder what it would be like — how things would change.
I miss being a child — partly, of course, because of the lack of responsibility and the complete naiveté to the burdens and blows of being a grown up. Being a child isn’t easy, by any means. Your opinions are constantly invalidated simply because you are a kid; adults often don’t give you the time of day, other kids can cause you great distress and you can’t fathom concepts like why it’s so terrible to have a cookie before dinner (this concept is one still unfathomable to me). But I miss the way I looked at things, the way I made judgment calls, the way that so many more things were beautiful and interesting. The way that every day could be an adventure in the forest — everyone could be a mystery to solve — and the smallest of things could be the best of treasures.