Before we went to South Africa my brother heard there is a place where you can ride an ostrich.
He already decided he was going to do it.
I was surprised by this – but at the same time, I wasn’t.
I think of my brother as well put together, intelligent, and very careful about the way he speaks. Specifically, in the way he phrases things. He wants to be precise; he doesn’t want to be misunderstood, and he doesn’t want people to misinterpret what he means. Especially if something being misinterpreted could hurt that person’s feelings. These character traits are all good things in my eyes. The point I’m trying to make is he is not the type of person I would expect to want to get on the back of an ostrich and have a crazy ride around the fenced-in pen entirely at the mercy of an ostrich he never met before.
But he was determined, and he was excited, and I, for one, could not wait to see it.
The Day Was Here
The opportunity to ride ostriches wasn’t until well into our trip. Finally, the day was here. We arrived at the ostrich village? Ostrich land? Ostrich sanctuary? I am not sure what the place is called. But, if I remember correctly, riding the ostrich was not the first thing on the agenda. First, we were able to feed them and learn about ostrich life. Then, we took a little tour of the establishment.
Eventually they took us to the place where you could ride them.
John was the first to volunteer. They were only letting a few people ride them, and his hand went right up. His volunteering to go first was also a little surprising to me.
He was ready to go no matter what it meant, no matter what it looked like, no matter what happened. He didn’t need somebody to go first. He knew he wanted the experience regardless of what that meant and regardless of how it looked. I think he wanted to be first because he didn’t want to see the experience before getting to have the experience.
In this moment, he didn’t care if he looked silly or if he fell or was thrown. Maybe those things never crossed his mind. They crossed mine.
All he knew was he wanted to ride an ostrich.
Bucket list, anyone?
No, thank you.
The Adventure Begins
I think my brother – being tall and skinny was appealing to the ostrich handlers, and they happily picked him to go first. Actually, now that I look back on this in my memory, he might have been the only person raising their hand. I think everyone else wanted to see what happened to the first person before they were willing to volunteer.
Ostriches are huge, and strong, and very tall themselves. My brother climbed up some steps attached to a wooden frame that held the ostrich still. Once everyone is ready, the ostrich is released and runs around this fenced-in area with two handlers running behind it.
Maybe they’re supposed to catch my brother if he falls?
Doubtful they’d be able to.
Ultimately, they are there to control the ostrich, which they do from time to time. It is incredible the handlers can keep up.
Clearly, this is not the handler’s first day.
Although my brother is tall, the ostrich was much taller. John could not touch the ground. They’re that big, that strong, and quite aggressive, I might add.
The Aggressiveness of Ostriches
Earlier in the day, in another part of the park where you can feed the ostriches, the workers tell you to watch out for your jewelry and, believe it or not – your cell phones. The ostriches will rip them out of your hands, and they will eat them. They will swallow your cell phone, and you can watch it go down their throat.
They have stones in their stomachs that help them digest food and cell phones (apparently), and jewelry, really anything. There’s a place in the gift shop that displays random things they’ve pulled out of ostrich’s stomachs (well, it’s actually removed out of … you know what I mean).
There’s grit – rocks and other material in their stomachs that help them break down the stuff they ingest. The ostriches need to eat rocks and stones to ensure their digestive tract works properly. I’m not kidding. This is what helps them digest food, cell phones, jewelry, and maybe even small children if you’re not careful.
Who knows where ostriches draw the line?
Back to the Story at Hand
But back to my brother, we left him (in my attempt to give you a little ostrich education) being jacked around the field with two guys running behind him in a crazy, haphazard, random pattern. Ostriches are fast and determined. Racing them is a sport in South Africa and some parts of the United States. I thought my brother would fall off at any moment, but he held on to the wings. Yes, they hold onto the wings as the rider rides bareback. No saddle, no harness.
Nevertheless, John was a worthy rider.
At one point, I stopped taking pictures and just sat back and enjoyed watching the scene before me.
Transformation and Reconnection
And that’s when I saw it.
Suddenly before my eyes, I saw him, my young childhood companion, my brother as the child he was – right there in this grown man’s face.
Free of everything. Pure joy, pure innocence, and happiness.
In that moment, I was moved, and I held on to it. I really let myself feel it.
I was transported, just for a moment back a lifetime ago, to our childhood. The feeling washed over me, my brother, my partner, and me as children – just being. Children without a care in the world.
There are six children in my family. Three sets of two – about a year or so apart. There are about five years between each of the pairs. (Yes, we are all full siblings – we are frequently asked that since there are about 15 years from oldest to youngest). We call our counterpart our “partner.” John and I spent our early childhood in New York with Sunday family dinners as part of our life. Sadly, part of our culture that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Every Sunday, the extended family got together for most of the day, ending with dinner together.
It seems a lifetime ago since we were those children. They seemed like two other people, as I was observing their lives in my mind’s eye. For that swift, few seconds, I was back there, in our childhood, for a fleeting moment. Although it was long ago, I could still feel it.
Others Saw It Too
After the trip, I put John and his ostrich pictures in one of our family chats or on social media, somewhere. I think I was wishing him a happy birthday.
Two of our Aunts texted me separately and said they could see his childhood self in the images.
I’m glad they saw it too.
I’m glad the adventure gave me a quick visit with our childhood selves. It was great to see that little boy again. But don’t get me wrong. I love the man he is. It was just lovely to see that face again.
It seems we lose sight of our childhood innocence, our wonder, and openness as we grow up.
People, circumstances and judgement of ourselves and from others causes us to close off parts of who we are, who we used to be. Slowly we lose the child in us.
Responsibility for jobs, family, and other adult things cause time to be stolen from us. Time we would rather be spending doing other things. We become so used to the flow of everyday life that we have forgotten what it’s like not to have responsibilities.
So, bravo to all you adults who have maintained playtime – but I bet even you would like more of it.
And for all of those who have forgotten how to play – go find it again.
Think about what you used to love to do and find a way to make it part of your life again. Or bring something new into your life. What have you always wanted to do? Do it now. Learn how.
More and more people are unhappy in their jobs, relationships, or in who they have become. Others have stressors that are wearing on them. Regardless of the reason, too many of us are not remembering to slow down and play.
At least for a few minutes.
Connect with your children or your grandchildren or your friends or your spouse or partner.
Make it happen.
Feel the freedom from responsibility and enjoyment of being a child again. Reintroduce yourself to how that feels.
In those moments, when we are just playing, that’s where freedom lives. There is no stress in that moment.
Don’t let the children we used to be disappear forever.
Find them again.