This post was written in response to the Inner Child Blog Challenge that Ka sent my way… Thank you, Ka, for the prompt…
As children, what happens swallows us whole. We occupy slices of heaven easily. They’re what we expect to find. There are no beliefs to suspend in order to gain access, for our minds have yet to form them. Our physical brains are malleable potentials, taking in light and sound with curiosity, measuring inflections and discovering the strange reality of symbol, etching into living circuitry the basic algorithms of response and interpretation that our lives will require. We are precious and vulnerable all at once. Tragedy at the wrong time can shift our sensitivities indefinitely, coloring the world in shadows and thorns, leaving us beset with false axioms about our relationship to pain. Across the street, a gentler living room is the den of kings, talking bears and little houses on the prairie.
At Christmas one year, we had a book about an angel. I don’t remember much of the story now, but I do remember the feeling. Read it again, Dad. I lost myself in it that evening, into the memory of places where everything works out, where an angel’s doubt was met with beauty and dissolved completely, and holy purpose was revealed. The second time wasn’t quite the same.
Why are these glimpses so fleeting?
It was time for bed. I usually asked Archangel Michael to take the front hallway, and put his buddy Gabriel on the roof detail. My Dad agreed it was a sound strategy. I knew from prior discussions that they could be at our house, and countless others as well. This type of largesse did nothing to subtract from the protection of another. I asked for a few more guardians as well usually—one outside the window, and one at each corner of the house, because even as children we know the power of symmetry and dimension. I didn’t question these moments, or understand that calling on powers like these to keep you safe implies the existence of darkness. I was merely a child, an open awareness. I was sincere, and I slept soundly.
As children, we accept the world as we see it. The first world we flow into is the natural one. Years later, we sort it out. What emerges is an adult. Then the real sorting begins– the questions about undoing things altogether, about finding our way back to the beginning.
When I was a boy, ideas would find me that I didn’t know how to actualize. Feeling flooded with potential, as if I could fly, I tried to make sculpture out of shaving cream, but by the next day it had evaporated. By then the feeling had passed anyway. I rode my bike down to the store and weaved back and forth between the bollards, populated by thoughts I no longer remember thinking. Sometime later, moving to a more substantial medium, I managed to get a teaspoon of real clay stuck to the ceiling above the kitchen table. I tried to brush it off with a broom, but that just spread it around. This was not a precocious moment, and my seven year old self soon lost interest with the field of sculpture altogether. But times continued to arrive unexpectedly in which I felt flooded with potential, like there was a cosmic eye in side of me that periodically opened.
We got a computer around then– an IBM PC Junior– and I learned how to write programs in Basic. I carried the small three-ring binder of Basic commands with me to school, and slid it under my chair. When I completed the classwork, I would read about how to make the computer draw lines and circles, shade them with color, or play sounds. I wrote a thousand line program that summer that drew a scene of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker squaring off with their light sabers in a cloud of smoke, and played the Star Wars theme song through the speaker. It was the opening montage to a Choose Your Own Adventure game I was developing. The Imperial Forces were closing in. Should you take the next shuttle out, or hide in the cargo bay with the wookie? I loved wondering where choices might lead, as it seemed they could lead right through one world and into another.
That was the same year I learned a few constellations. I still remember the winter night I stood on the sidewalk, looking at the stars, thinking that I only had to be good for this one life, and then if I got into heaven I could relax. I dreamed of that relaxation– knew exactly how it would feel, but the path from here to there felt thorny and confusing. I didn’t trust myself to run the gauntlet with the needed devotion. My mother told me she didn’t believe certain things the Church said about heaven and hell– that no God would make suffering eternal. It rang true, and I clung to it.
To make our way, we have to trust what rings true.
I saw a time trial from the Tour de France one Saturday morning, and spent the next weeks racing up and down the streets, hunched over my handlebars, dreaming I was Bernard Hinault. I had no idea he and LeMond were feuding. All I could see was the way pure will and glory were somehow connected. There was a nice bike store in the city a mile or so away, and I would ride there during the summer and browse the grown-up bikes, picturing Hinault’s face grimacing into the side of some mountain. At night, I asked my Dad to time me while I raced around the block. I began riding up steeper hills. Then life intervened and something else called to me.
A friend and I plotted a hiking route up the mountain on which the city was overlaid. The course started at my house, criss-crossed through the city, then through the wind tunnel of a small apartment complex past painted iron grating and closed doors, up the trail of a park, across a parking lot, and finally along a utility right-of-way through the woods. The last stretch passed near a wide opening in the ground we worried was filled with thugs and bandits. I was nervous of someone jumping out from the darkness to grab me, but also knew I couldn’t remain beholden to the anxiety and make it to the top. Our first ascent was in the rain. When we made it to the top, we climbed over the fence and snuck into the park, and bought sodas.
One thing led to another.
I worried the US and Russia would use nuclear weapons to destroy the planet. The Challenger blew up and our teacher asked us how we felt about it. I worried deep down I wouldn’t be nearly good enough for something up ahead, though I didn’t know what it was. I wondered what all of it was, and was for. I went out alone, years later as an adult, into the night to meet myself and grief was all I had at first. I’m still recovering from this world I fell into, the one that made the first impression, where there wasn’t quite enough of something that everybody needed. Transforming that world became the only worthy purpose of my life—not transforming the world exactly, so much as my erroneous conclusions about what it was, and is.
I’m plotting a new course now, with Gabriel at my left and Michael up ahead on point, and Hafiz now on my shoulder holding the lantern– a path through the skyscrapers, dark caves and abandoned corners of this world, up the mountain to the glowing door no suffering can pass… to the unity I felt in glimpses even as a boy, and wondered what it was… to the unity I wondered if I would ever deserve…
Only now I know what I didn’t know then: that I’m not alone, that we all deserve it, and the door is also finding us…