“Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
I am watching my nine year-old, my soon-to-be-seven year-old, and my five year-old play on the playground at one of Laramie’s fine parks, Laprele, with its Huck Finn fishing pond, its rows of tall pines, and its tiny little river. I am watching my kids’ imaginations take over their being and superimpose onto their physical surroundings, swings becoming space ships, bridges suddenly crossing lava-filled canyons, a playhouse becomes a doctor’s office, the tiny dock extending into the pond suddenly a sturdy sailing ship in choppy storm waters.
The permeability of reality and fantasy, and the easy threshold from fantasy number one to fantasy number two, twelve, and ninety nine, makes me wish that grownups were able to deploy the imagination as easily as children do. In particular, I wish that we could imagine better worlds and then enact them. But we have a material threshold absent in children’s play, and we have been stomped by realism–stomped and demoralized–and so our world contains limitations that our children, hopefully, do not yet understand.
“When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of Hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay.”
Still I wonder, in spite of my acceptance of these maturity-induced limits, whence comes the fear, the selfishness, the quick-to-condemn defensiveness, that characterizes the politics of our time, and maybe of all time. Little kids are afraid of monsters, but they aren’t afraid of each other…at least, not when they know that they are safe.
Sometimes I watch my children, and other children, struggle with the dynamics of sharing. They are quick to share when they know that sharing will make another child happy, but they also need some material reassurance. They need to know that, in sharing, they won’t lose the important things they have.
As my thoughts turn from children to adults, I think of political play, the political imagination, and what it will take to assuage our own fears. Like our kids, we need to see big things in small things. Like them, we need reassurance that our sacrifices won’t break us or leave us empty.
As we guard them, we should guard ourselves, admitting our frailties, creating a safe space for our fearlessness, refusing to accept that the first manifestation of the thing we see is what it initially appears to be.
“Childhood has no forebodings; but then, it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow.”
This can’t happen, though, in a world where a tiny minority get to set the parameters of reality for the rest of us. It won’t happen in a world where the construction of reality is the province of the highest bidder. Material hierarchy, oppression, and policy opacity are like childhood’s end, slapping us into the suspicion and demoralization of a sad adulthood.
The wind is blowing the pines. It’s become pleasantly, unseasonably cool in the park. As we leave the playground behind, my youngest says goodbye to the things: “Goodbye, swings…goodbye bridge…goodbye river…” This reminds me of something else found in youth, all too often lost in adulthood. He has formed a relationship with the objects and structures around him, honoring their being. He hasn’t spent the last hour exploiting them; instead, he’s been interacting with them–cooperating with them.
Maybe that’s the big picture: imagination and the creation of safe space for sharing, in a world that we see as interactive and dynamic and relational.
But before I can think too hard about how to implement such an agenda in the adult political world, the kids have pulled me to them, reminding me that the thing I call a car is really a submarine, and that it’s time to dive into the ocean again. We strap in and go under. The life forms we see at 20,000 leagues are tremendous and otherworldly.