I’ve always been more outrageously shocked by scandal or crude humor than most of my friends. To this day, people will say things that upset me just to watch my expression. Apparently I put on a good show.
I knew by the time I went to college that I’d been raised in a sheltered home environment. But not until recently have I decided that I’m extremely grateful for the innocence that my parents worked hard to protect.
Because it kept my eyes wide.
And eyes wide with wonder are eyes that see the beauty of the world in ways that those who are hardened, embittered, and scarred are more challenged to find.
I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I know, since I was once a “sheltered” child, that sheltering potentially protects from pain and cynicism. There’s no way to ward everything away forever, obviously, but I don’t see the benefits of knowing what certain sexual terms mean or what learning cuss words and watching violent movies, etc does to improve the general wellness a child’s mind. (I’m generalizing, of course, but I hope you see my point.)
But even more than sheltered childhoods, and none of us could control whether or not we had one since it wasn’t up to us, I’m captivated by the innocence that mine preserved. I call it ‘innocence,’ but I don’t mean the complete absence of anything dark or evil. I mean wonder and openness.
Last summer, a close friend of mine looked me right in the face and told me I would ‘always have a sense of innocence’ about me – she seemed surprised to see the residue of this still in my eyes, as if innocence is something guaranteed to fade.
But isn’t it (at least partly) innocence that makes us laugh and cry in the presence of something beautiful?
Isn’t this childlike quality what makes an artist delight in his/her work and remember the importance of play so that the soul isn’t crushed beneath a jammed schedule and work demands?
To illustrate my point, one of my favorite fairy tales is George MacDonald’s story of Photogen and Nycteris, best remembered as The Day Boy and the Night Girl. ( click here to read it: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/daynight/files/daynight.html ). What enchants me is the vulnerability that both the characters exhibit when outside of their comfort zones—light and darkness, respectively. Again, that innocent wonder.
They fall in love, out of needing each other – he is helpless in the night and cannot see, so she is his guide. During the day when her tender, large eyes cannot endure the glare of the sun, he is the strong arm to protect and shelter her.
The two characters are excited and naïve, and there is profound beauty in a soul it is curious, gentle, and full of awe for the vast wide world.
I’m aware that many of us feel we once had a naïve innocence, but it was lost or taken irretrievably from us. I argue that the sense of fresh wonder can return, but it takes some gentle inviting. And before that, it starts with valuing this innocence as something wonderful, not something to be scoffed at or embarrassed about.
The story of Day Boy and Night Girl is exquisite in its beauty, and I’m realizing that much more than its enchanting light/dark theme, the true magic of the story is the characters’ innocence about all that they don’t know.