The term “childlike” is usually accompanied by a longing sigh and a distant look in the eyes. It’s our own individual Eden, a place we lived without worries or cares and one day were simply banished. Sent away from our home for daring to commit the unforgivable sin of growing older. As adults we stand outside the walls of Eden, our ears pressed against the stones, listening to the laughter of children who now reside where we once lived. This is a bitter sweet experience for adults. Looking from one another we smile remembering what it once felt like to be “childlike”. But there is also an unspoken sadness to these exchanges. The feeling in the pit of our stomachs that it is only a matter of time before they too are on this side of the wall, ears pressed against the cool stones, listening to the new occupants of that perfect garden.
Perhaps that is why society strives to “protect the children” with so much fervor. We want to protect them from the world, to keep them locked inside the safety of the garden, to wrap them in the blanket of ignorance. For that is the key to our expulsion. The Fruit of Knowledge is what began the forced exodus from Eden. We strive to keep them safe from the real world outside their insulating walls. But no matter how hard you may try, the world continues to creep in, like the crafty serpent of the Bible, and inevitably they too take from the fruit and are forced to leave their innocents behind.
Perhaps our memories of our own time in the Garden are more rose colored than we might like to admit. We look back at a time when we were free of responsibilities, of bosses that demanded too much, of drivers that cut you off on the way to work, of people and their expectations of you, of broken refrigerators, of broken down cars, of deadlines, of taxes, of long sleepless nights and of so much doubt. Yes, we tell ourselves, when we were children we were free from all of those things. Free to laugh and play without a care in the world. But if you are honest with yourself you will realize that is only half the truth.
Perhaps you didn’t have to get up for work every morning but you did get dragged out of bed to attend school. While you weren’t stuck in traffic, you did have to face that school bus each morning. A social experiment in status combined with the threat of actual physical abuse. You ate what you were served and if you didn’t like it, you could go hungry. You had to ask permission to use the bathroom and both at home & at school your actions were scrutinized and punishment or rewards were given out.
But you may say, “At least I had the imagination of a child.” Yes. Yes, you did. An imagination that told you that monsters living under your bed or in your closet were a real threat. And to compound the problem, your parents & older siblings seem to completely ignore warnings of the impending attack from that creature that lived in your closet. Their solution to prevent your death at the hands of these deformed creatures was to click on a hall light or to tell you to, “Just go to sleep.” These thin defenses held no help for your young racing mind and pounding heart. Imagine yourself, an adult, trapped on a space ship with the creatures from the film Alien. You tell Ripley about their presents and she tells you, “I’ll turn on a night light and that should keep them away. Now get some hypersleep.”
Don’t even get me started on the bully from the bus or who cornered you just out of site of the distracted recess monitor. In the mind of a child, these individuals weren’t going to just take away their lunch money or favorite marble. Oh, no. They were going to kill them. Imagine riding a prison bus through the gates of a maximum security prison, your chest tightening and your head pounding. Now remember what it was like when a group of bullies surrounded you in the bathroom between classes.
My point is not to strip childhood of all of it’s fun and innocents. I just want to point out that through all of these trials and tribulations imagination and innocents still grows. Perhaps we don’t have to follow the advice of Corinthians, “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Because we don’t put our childhood behind us. As adults we continue to carry it inside of us, but only part of it. The fear of being teased, the fear of not being good enough, the need for approval, etc.
Age has not given me wisdom but it has made me self conscious about being a fat balding older man that can’t quite figure out the secret to being a “successful” adult. I am still afraid of the dark. I am terrified of mice. But I’ve also managed to hold onto my imagination. There is still a child inside of me that pretends that trees can talk and that there really are super heroes that walk among us. I stand in awe of nature and the vast expanse of space and all the things we can’t even imagine in the world around us.
I believe inside every adult is a memory of what it felt like to be in Eden. We carry little snap shots of our time there in our hearts and sometimes it takes a child or an old trusted friend to give us permission to take them out and look at them again. I invite you to give yourself permission. Take them out when you are sitting in traffic or struggling at work. Take them out when you are alone or with friends. Flip through them and remember what it was like to believe that anything is possible and there is nothing you can’t do.
This blog is my opportunity to take out my photos. To remember what it felt like to be a child and run to my Mom, with a crayon drawing, shouting, “Look what I made!” Perhaps my stream of consciousness writing isn’t interesting to anyone and my grammar & spelling remains childlike. But I am going to let all of that go and believe my Mom when she says, “It’s the best drawing of a flower…cow…dog…um, thing I’ve ever seen!”