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Essay: He's got the whole world in his hands

How a child's small ball of clay reminded me I can accomplish anything

March 21, 2011 | 4:01 a.m. CST

I’d done this a dozen times before. I drove down the same suburban streets and walked through the same glass doors. Like clockwork. I was picking Murphy up from kindergarten. I pulled into the first row of the empty parking lot, grabbed my purse and darted inside. I walked down the hall lined with mini backpacks and colorful puffy jackets, gloves and hats, signs of a true Chicago winter. I didn’t see him right away. All little kids look the same to me, not to mention he was looking down so all I did see was the yellow paper crown he was wearing on his head. It wasn’t his birthday, but this didn’t surprise me; he always thought he was the king—or at least he acted like it.

He looked up, “Oh hey, Trace,” he said with a grin.

I laughed—not because his high-pitched voice hadn’t changed since he was 2 (he’s 7 now), but because something artificially blue was lodged between the gap of his two front teeth. I moved closer to get a better look.

“Murph, what is that?”

“What?” he looked down again and then back up at me. He had a plastic cup in his hands. Rolling around inside the cup was a tiny blue and green ball about the size of a marble.

“Oh, that’s just clay,” he said.

“Buddy, you can’t eat that,” I told him kindly.

“Oh.” He pressed his top teeth down to meet the bottom ones, looked at me and waited. I stuck my finger into his small square-like teeth, which were obviously in need of some serious brushing. I removed the blue clay and held it out on the tip of my index finger just inches under his nose waiting for an explanation.

“Sorry?” he said as he shrugged his shoulders.

I chucked to myself.

I grabbed his backpack off the hook labeled in masking tape and black maker. “Murphy Byrne,” it read. I had seen that name scribbled at the bottom corner of countless drawings, on his stocking at Christmas time and on the inside tags of the shirts he brought to camp each summer. Sure, I was his babysitter but he was my family.

We left the hallway waving goodbye to his teachers and friends, passing the vending machine which was followed by an abundance of pleas for candy, like I said, nothing new. All the while he took special care of the plastic cup, more specifically, what was inside.

At first I thought it was just a ball of clay. You know, one of those things he stole from the classroom that he was planning on playing with later—and by playing with later I mean losing interest in after two minutes and shoving it between the backseat cushions of my car for me to find in another life. I figured I would be swearing at him in my head for that later but for now I’d let him enjoy it. I didn’t ask questions, just continued with the routine.

We made it to the car and I held his backpack and the cup, per his request, as he got into my back seat. I looked at it again and laughed to myself about how something so tiny and so meaningless could be that important to him. Once he was ready, I handed his things back to him and we drove the few blocks back to his house stopping briefly to pick up his older brother, Tyler, on the way.

We walked in the back door, kicked off our snowy boots and headed to the kitchen. That was when we began talking.

“What did you do at school today?” I asked out of reflex.

I was expecting the typical “nothing” response followed by him opening a package of Oreos and turning on the kitchen TV. I was wrong.

“We learned about the world,” he told me.

“Oh yeah?” I said teasing him. “Well, then tell me something about it.”

He looked down into the cup again.

Still confused about the magic inside that I was missing, I watched him as he gently flipped the cup over and rolled the small blue and green clay marble into his age-less hands. I was two feet taller than him now, maybe less; he brought his hand up as close to my face as he could reach.

With the marble resting on his palm he said, “I’ve got it in my hands," he said moving it even closer. "See?”

His smile stretched from one ear to the other—the very same smile he got when he heard the ice cream truck come around the corner.

He lowered his hand and began to sing softly. "I’ve got the whole world, in my hands, I’ve got the whole world in my hands"… and, well, he did.

We spent some time at the kitchen counter talking about where we were and where we might be someday, I was moving to Paris the next day, not exactly the four minute drive between the suburbs we were used to. After we had finished conquering the different continents and oceans of the world he told me to get a knife. This was a strange request but Murphy was surprising me today so I obliged.

Guided by his hand, together, we put the plastic knife to what I presume was the North Pole and pressed down gently to discover the center was red, the core. We decided it was really cool that we could cut the world in half like that. It made us feel powerful, like we could do anything.

It’s strange how these little moments kind of pop into your life when you never thought much of them at the time.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation with Murphy a lot, in fact I think about it all the time. About youth in general, and well, having the whole world in your hands or, at least, at your fingertips.

I once read this:

“The easiest thing about being young is still having a sort of romantic perspective or outlook on the world: not being jaded or disillusioned; and knowing — hoping — that you have time to do what you want and to achieve what you want.”

I love that.

When I read that I feel so ambitious, like I really can do anything. Like I can cut the world in half and see the red core. Like I can see and accomplish anything I want. Nothing is out of my reach.

Nothing.

"I've got it in my hands. See?" Can't get much better than that.

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