I have another confession to make, one that isn’t probably all that secret (and most certainly isn’t secret to those who know me best): I love to read. I love reading to the point I will stay up all night just to keep reading (all the while telling myself “I’ll stop at the end of the chapter.”). I will read pretty much anything I can, as evidenced by bookshelves containing everything from The Chronicles of Narnia to A Short History of Nearly Everything to Journey to the West to My Teacher is an Alien. However, if there is one genre toward which I have always gravitated, it would have to be the fantastic. Some of the earliest books I can remember reading were the Lord of the Rings, the Arthurian legends, and The Wheel of Time.
I have always been enthralled by a good story (and, let’s be honest, pretty much any story), but the stories of fantastic beings, good versus evil, and doing right because it was right always captured me in a way other stories never did. The stories were my refuge during times that threatened to crush me under their weight. They were the places in which I could run freely when circumstance fettered my legs.
I have never claimed to be more than what I am, a man who is probably still many parts a boy (and I can sense the multitudes of people vigorously nodding in agreement) so I still love those stories. I love the idea that maybe, if I turn my head fast enough, I could see a fairy dart behind a tree or if I were quiet enough I could hear the trees talking to one another. Add that to my rather vivid imagination and you can probably figure the stories I come up with when hiking, camping, or even just driving through wooded areas, storms, or country roads.
I make no apologies for still having that part of me that believes in the fantastic. I came across a quote recently that I love. “Childhood is the world of miracle or of magic: it is as if creation rose luminously out of the night, all new and fresh and astonishing. Childhood is over the moment things are no longer astonishing.” (Eugene Ionesco). I think back to the games and beliefs of childhood. The time when a stick was a sword and every corner held adventure. I remember the anticipation of Christmas morning, knowing that Santa came and left wondrous gifts. I remember the belief that a stuffed animal was a protector and best friend guarding against the dangers of the night.
Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t grow up and “put away childish things” and find a faith and belief in the bigger things in life, but I think Madeleine L’Engle said it best:
I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still a part of me, and will always be. This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages . . . the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide. Far too many people misunderstand what ‘putting away childish things’ means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grownup, then I don’t even want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and ‘be’ fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.
It saddens me that we lose that childlike belief, faith, joy, ability to be astonished. And I say this coming from a place where I didn’t get much in the way of a childhood so I understand that trials and tribulations that can rob us of our innocence. And I guess to some degree life by nature will take that innocence from us regardless. But I think there’s a level on which we choose our fate in choosing to let our perspective change. We stop believing in the numinous, the miraculous. We focus on the mundane instead and ignore the magnificent (and what makes magnificent isn’t size – a joyful, heartfelt laugh of love can be as magnificent and miraculous as water to wine). We lose or choose to forget that part of us that believed in good triumphing over evil, in the ability of things to be better. And, I think, in doing so, we stop living and resign ourselves to simply surviving.
Maybe I’ve ranged a little far afield in this post but I see, in myself, a direct connection from my love for the fantastic to my belief that, despite any circumstance, miracles and magic can still exist. I hope I never lose my ability to be astonished by life. I hope I never forget what it was like to soak up the words of the books of my youth and have my imagination ignited. I hope I never forget what it was like to ride my bike through a field and see the ogres chasing me, unable to catch me. I hope that you don’t either. Whether you are astonished every day or don’t remember the last time you were, I hope you retain that childlike spirit, that sense of astonishment, that wonder so strong that it wells up within you and spills from your lips in cascades of laughter.