The Whole Wide World

When I was a little boy, I lay in the backyard watching bats flit through branches overhead, hearing the evening trill of robins hidden among the leaves, and waiting for the first lightning-bugs to flash that electric-green fire, and long before all the other sad and glad events that happened to, with, and around me began to form my perspective on what we all call life, I fell in love.

I fell in love with the phrase “the whole wide world.”

These were my first magic words, and I revered and recited them even in the least likely circumstances. I don’t know where I first heard the phrase, but I do remember repeating the words loudly and often, no matter whether I was claiming to love my mother or vow my future goals or assert the extent of my travels around the planet in the days to come, but I do know that even now, just uttering the phrase can make me smile.

I couldn’t say the words without singing a tune. My arms rose from my sides as I strained to open myself to the utmost, and every single syllable as I spoke demanded the emphasis of volume and breath that only the excitement and wonder of the young can express.

Saying “the whole wide world” was my childish and first attempt to gather the entire expanse of life together in my mind, just as reaching all the way around the corduroyed gray trunk of the Norway maple tree in my backyard was an attempt to prove to myself that someday I would be bigger. Pressing my cheek to that rough gray bark, I knew I would learn all I needed to know once I could embrace the world and touch the fingertips of one hand to the other.

Eric Shaffer