Let’s give children credit. Childhood is not all sweetness and light, butterflies and rainbows. Real childhood – as opposed to our fantasy about childhood – is full of very intense, even traumatic, experiences. Every step of the way, the child’s larger-than-life desire is subverted by mysterious obstacles, by a mysterious “No.”
Who knows why they can’t have that whole bag of candy, and stay up all night watching TV: they just can’t and Mommy said so, and that’s that. It’s a mystery.
You have to be a hero and a wizard to be a kid. True it is, from our perspective, those chiddlers (as the BFG calls them) might seem to be little drama queens. But put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and you’ll see at once that their emotions are as real and serious as the things we take seriously.
We are watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy with our little one right now. He is five, and some of the scenes are intense, so we take time to talk through them. He’s a little chatterbox once you get him started, but he gets it, as children so often do. Giving him space to talk to us about what is happening is so crucial for his growing experience. Intense experiences are not unfamiliar to our little one nor to other children.
Yet so often, from a place of good intentions, we like to shield our little ones, under the rosy, romantic belief that childhood is, or should be, pure and completely free of all the scary stuff. And we don’t allow them to confront things that are “above their heads” – afraid perhaps that they might feel frustrated. The truth is that they won’t feel frustrated if we engage with them.
What goes with the rosy picture of childhood is a desire to check out and to disengage with the hard work of being involved with our children. But here is the point to see: even the most protected childhood is full of its own intensities – we can’t escape it, because it comes from our own natures and the nature of our desires and the nature of reality.
For our desire, as life itself, is always and ever “above our heads.”
Certainly there is much to shield our kiddos from, and children do need to feel safe. But while we try to protect them, on the other hand, maybe we can ease off on making ridiculous demands on them – for example, wanting them to be “socialized” without ever talking experiencing what “society” actually could/would/should mean.
As those of you who have seen the films and read the books of the Tolkein’s magnificent trilogy know, one of the core tensions of the story is around the issue of hope. The most important characters are the secondary characters – Aarwen the Elvish princess in love with the mortal Aragorn, Sam Gamgee, the devoted hobbit who will follow his best friend Frodo literally into hell, as well as Merry and Pippin, two other trickster hobbits who seem at the outset of the story to be more trouble than anything else. They are the ones throughout the story who have hope.
Hope is the through-line of the narrative and the teaching, as I understand it, is that hope is not Pollyanna-ish and easy, but rather is a struggle. Hope is challenge, hope is dangerous, and hope is absolutely necessary.
Hope does not shield us through the ugly, the difficult, the painful and the scarring, but it gives us the courage to look at these things dead on, to descend into them, to learn from them what we will, be changed in the ways we are, and then come back to bright and the beautiful, back to land, back to air and sky – different and yet whole, hurt in some ways, and yet healed too, scarred by what we have seen and heard and felt and made holy by those scars.
This is the power of hope and this is why it is not a thing you have the way you have the knowledge of what two times two is, but rather a virtue that lives, wrangles, and tangles with every day.
I sent out a new moon note with a prayer poem about the armor that we wear. The writing came on the heels of tragedy upon tragedy – Orlando. Istanbul. Dhaka. We can now add Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas to the list. One of my miracles (this is what I call all of the members of my community) wrote this to me:
I always love your optimistic approach. You don’t deny that it should be better, but gracefully you encourage us to believe and to embrace our path with dignity and joy.
This individual attributed something to me, neglecting the fact that HE was the one who pulled it from my words. In essence, he was describing his own beautiful self and he is right.
We cannot deny that it should be better, that some things should never have to be seen, heard, participated in, and inflicted upon others. Absolutely not. And yet they are. You have experienced it, as have I, as have we all. And there are voices, many and loud, that tell us that our experience of the bad and the ugly is the sum total of who we are and what we are capable of. But we know better.
It is easy to rest in cynicism, easy to stay in the underworld mired in our own waste, easy to just sit down, stay still, and wait for the end to come, easy to rake ourselves over the coals of shame with what we didn’t/could have/should have done or said. Much harder to engage in the struggle of hope. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the soulful seeker does not do easy when easy comes at the cost of true.
I’m sure you have read the statistic that is gleefully quoted in mainstream media that for the first time in ever, parents today in the United States are not sure that their children will have the same or better quality of life that they have right now. That’s a form of easy cynicism and fear mongering.
It is also untrue according to my grandmother and the elders I know, whenever there are young ones there is always worry and fear riding along side joy and love. The proper response has been the proper response since time out of mind: we pay attention, we do what can be done to help and to aid, to support and to cherish, we do not hide from the hard but we meet it, full on, with something incandescent and ultimately indestructible.
We meet it with hope.
About the Author: Briana Saussy
Hi, I’m Briana! I am a writer, teacher, and spiritual counselor, and I am part of a growing community of soulful seekers, people who are looking for wholeness, holiness and healing – for better, more rewarding lives.
The best way to work with me and begin living an enchanted life right here and now is to register for my year long course of fairy tales and magic – Spinning Gold.