Saturday, March 24, 2007

kid's books

I just got finished viewing the newest film rendition of Katherine Paterson's classic The Bridge to Terabithia. Although I'm perfectly aware of the story and the ending, it never ceases to catch me.

A lot of draw to the film comes from a corresponding tragedy in my own life at the same age of the story's characters. In 5th grade I lost a friend, Daniel Galooley, suddenly. I'm not sure if I ever got over the feelings of pity. He'd never grow up, never fall in love, he's not be there for high school with me, never make a print on the world, etc. Reflecting on such things also made me wonder about my own finitude. So many beautiful stories blow in the winds from place to place. Shared between people who are dead now, or grown up. Beautiful people we'll never have the chance to know. It's sad to know that most of our lives in the long run won't have much more corporate significance than Daniel's. We'll live 60-70 years longer, but the difference to the rest of the world will be a few entries on Google, and only until the links become defunct.

I have found, being an avid reader for many years, that children's stories still touch me the most deeply. The innocence of the characters makes them a perfect foil for sympathetic and touching treatment of issues that affect us all throughout our lives. We learn from them much more in the vein of how we once learned from myths than how we learn from the typical Hollywood content. We learn to value innocence, friendship, fairness, compassion, and individual discernment.

Yet I think of all the best parts of these stories the thing I always come back to is the nostalgia.

Despite so many years without, I am still smarting from my own innocence being removed. I envy the young. Of course it's an unworkable paradox. The same innocence and true belief in the fantastic that makes childhood such a beautiful thing to see is inextricable from its fleeting nature and our inability to return to it.

I've often wondered if it's not the story-left-untold that draws me to the characters, or is it that I see in them my own growth pains as they unfold. I always wonder what happens after the book. What do the characters grow up to be like?

With so much magic in their lives, I always hope again for the first time...please, please don't let them lose the magic. I yearn for the impossible. Lifelong youth I do not envy and find rather obnoxious, but lifelong childhood is different. To think that the characters may one day be unable to see Terabithia is more than I, as a reader/watcher can bear. So much magic once filled the very air we breathed, only to be replaced by raging hormones, dating rituals, and the accumulation of wealth.

In Bridge to Terabithia I find myself harkening back to the time when boys and girls could truly just be friends. When there were magic kingdoms we created to make life what we wanted it to be. How many worlds I lived in. so many lives that were possible. I wanted to be a jedi, then a Zulu warrior, to fight with Heman, then become a Transformer. Why not?

At times when the slightly cool wind blow on a greying November I can remember the bliss of the changing seasons. The leaves rustling. The gentle wind giving off the first hint of chill. I could drink in that smell. Cocoa time would be soon. My pants were a little too big on me. The wind could get under my sleaves. I was darker skinned back then. My hair was moppish and unkept, all the more by my ruffling it in the wind. Pepper waited for me inside. The breeze bathed me in crisp, crunchy leaves of all colors in the Ozarks. It was perfection.

But the Terabithians die off eventually. Even the most ardent of us eventually become policemen, professors, lawyers, husbands, wives. Our lightsabers are put into the attic and the plastic army men never seen to have miraculously changed stances when we weren't looking. They're just plastic. Just what they are and the spirit cannot touch move through them again.

And there's the beauty we read into childhood. Things that now seem so ordinary were greater. Mom and dad were the kings and queens of the world, and we were the young nobles who would one day take their place. The world awaited us. The death of a grandparent or even a dog was an earth shattering event. We prayed with the conviction that it worked. We were heroes in a very small story.

So much just passed by then, seeming so ordinary. Nothing registered for the significance it had. Nostalgia has immortalized what was daily.

I wonder how many vows were made when we were still heroes? How many girls did I tell that I would marry them before other factors complicated the situation? How many friends did I "shake" with that we'd never be apart.

I'm reminded of Christ's words that it's to such as children that the kingdom of God belongs. We're tempted to see this as a statement of faith-type, and to a degree it is. But more is going on here.

It's also about wonder and the mystery of living. It's about how children see the entire world as a vast vast mystery in need of unlocking. Every day is new information. Whole mental constructs are destroyed and rebuilt regularly. New friends are made and it's a big deal. We learn to enjoy things and we experience aspects of life as brand new and not just variations on a theme.

Perhaps heaven is nothing other than continual pedagogy. There's so much to this vast universe and we can forever learn. All worlds are opened to us. God allows us finally to see the full splendor of His creation. Worlds collide and life rises from a small pool. Relationships are renewed. We are no longer "given in marriage". We're like the angels. We're like the children. We can again love fully.

It's all about the children's books. If being a child is the one to whom the kingdom is given, then children's books are our myths. They're like our apocrypha after the Scriptures. After so much reading and watching, the stories that move me the most deeply are obvious, somewhat cliche, but eveunique kid's books.


Blogger Megret said...

My daughter received a copy of "Charlotte's Web" for Christmas... I had forgotten how much it meant to me as a child... how much I related to the barn, and to the animals (I grew up on a small farm next to a large dairy farm...)

Just reading the first few chapters aloud to my daughter, I remembered things about being six that I hadn't thought about in over 25 years.

I think you're right... there is definitely something to be said for the innocent viewpoint of children... and for the literature that touches them... and sometimes can bring adults back to the edge of innocence.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Blogchik said...

Dude, FWIW, you're still young.

I do know what you mean about the nostalgia thing. But at the same time, every time I was part of a group like that, I never expected it to last.


9:14 PM  

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