I watched the preschoolers in my life make playground friends today. The prerequisites for these ephemeral friendships are simple: proximity and receptivity. There isn't any formality about them, they don't exchange names, there's no handshakes. My nephew simply scans the playground, looking for a kid who's idling a little. Then he runs up and boldly announces, "I see bad guys over there, let's get them!" They run off and play until I interrupt them and impose an agenda, usually nap time, usually much too soon.
I never understood how they built their playground friendships so quickly. Sitting and watching Josie and Ronen at the zoo today, they made new friends every 20 minutes or so. I noticed: they avoid all the surface stuff that trips up us grown-ups. Stuff like what you do for a living, where you live, how much money you make, how busy you are, if you have to pay for your groceries with food stamps, am I disturbing you. They skip all the unimportant surface junk and go straight for essence. A spirit-to-spirit encounter. Each soul is minted with it's own essence, it's own unique, divine pattern. A fingerprint to leave in the world. The children intuitively know how to read and respond to this deep reality in one another without thought.
Maybe this is what it means to have faith like a child.
Maybe "Love your neighbor as yourself" is supposed to go something like this. No artifice, no agenda, just scanning the horizon looking for who's nearby and open.
This is how Jesus called his disciples, with all the pomp and circumstance of playground friends.
The closest I've found to making playground friends in adulthood is serving--at the local food bank, bringing a grieving family I don't know well supper, visiting the nursing home, the lady in front of me at the grocery store. Random, awkward people slung together unified by their intention to make the world a place where they want to live. Or simply together just because they need to procure food so they can live.
It is my goal this Christmas to become more fully human. To really see people. This is where I start, by opening my heart and hands, by seeing everyone everywhere as playground friends.
I popped my head in at the Chick-fil-a play place today, they were getting loud, "everything okay in here?" My nephew rolled his eyes and said, "Aunt Kate, the other mom just asked the same question. We're good. We're getting the bad guys."