Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Praise of Childhood

(pictured, yours truly playing with Nepalese children a year ago. Note, I'm out of breath because I just hiked 20 miles, climbing 4 thousand feet and now trying to exert myself at about 8,000 foot elevation)

I'm coming at this post from an odd direction. It is actually my youngest son, Ramsey, dealing with some depression now that he is away at college. But I had the unique perspective of watching the catalysis for his depression appear right before my eyes.

It was about four years ago. I was sitting around a table in the coffee shop (where else) with Ramsey, his sister and two of his brothers. It was the eclipse of all three of his siblings moving away within weeks of each other. As we talked about it, it finally dawned in his young mind (I think he was 14) what was happening. He looked up and said, with this deep grief written on his face, "Our family, as we've known it is now over." Honestly, he has struggled a bit with depression every since.

Ramsey, I think, had an enchanted childhood. On that day, he knew that the long hours of interacting with, and somethings fighting with, his brothers and sisters had come to a permanent end . . . for all practical purposes.

For many of us (certainly not all as some people, unfortunately, have had horrible childhoods) childhood was indeed an enchanted time. The years crawled along at a snails pace. There were no worries (especially in the pre-school years). Your parents took care of the problems. You job was simply to explore, learn and have fun.

I too was the youngest child. My siblings left in a hurry as well, so it seemed. My sister got married when she was 16 and my brother got drafted to Vietnam. Suddenly, my childhood was over.

I can remember, like with Ramsey, the moment my childhood ended. I was about eleven. I was in my back yard sitting up my army men for a huge battle (and I used firecrackers for bombs and a BB gun. . . making it look very authentic). My mother paused on her way back from the garden. "You need to get rid of those army men. You're too old to play with toys!" Then she marched on down to the house. I wanted to shoot myself with my gun . . . but I knew that the wound would not be mortal. I felt a deep sadness. The years of wearing loin clothes with a hunting knife and running through the woods, of building tree houses, floating rafts down the creek and having imaginary friends (who were totally devoted to you) died that day.

Some of the early Gnostics saw children as non-spiritual beings, the same as animals. Therefore, some of them did not oppose the murdering of babies as was the habit of parts of the Greek culture. They, like the Hellenistics, saw the adult in his or her naked glory, as the ideal.

I'm wondering though, if maybe the Christian ideal is different. Maybe we will all be children again in the new world.

Maybe that was the essence of the following passage:

Matthew 18:3

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

I love to watch children play (and to play with them if given the chance). Their approach to the world is so honest, so pure and simple. They don't understand hate very well, unless someone takes their toy away.

I know that we can relive our own childhoods with our children and grand children . . . but it is still not quite the same. Childhood is really glorious.

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