Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Longing for Innocence


It has been a while since time stopped for me. But today it did. In the school library, a small group was working on the school calendar, I was working on casting the Holiday Show, the office folks doing their office work, the kids passing in the hall, that sense of hum and buzz and people happily attending to business. Air washed clean from a rain, that Fall slice of crispness that turns folks inward, sprinkles a fairy dusting of coziness indoors.
It was Grandparent's Day at school and had been a busy and glorious morning, the San Diego Orff group performing flawlessly for our guests, the music part of them now and forever and available to release at a moment’s notice. Then 100 kids facing 100 grandparents and singing back and forth, discovering a shared repertoire like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Skinnamarink,” both groups pointing to the other while singing “I love you!” Maybe the missing presence of grandparent elders (my peer group!) now completing the community of happy children and happy teachers, maybe the exhale of a five-day vacation ahead, maybe the turning toward a time of giving thanks and preparing for the final descent into darkness all helped. I don’t know. Grace and time’s stopping never comes from cause and effect, it just appears and if we’re lucky enough to notice it, the world is suddenly perfect as it is.
And so it was for me that moment in the library. A pause to breathe and notice and savor and remember all the many other times I stopped and let World pour in. Mostly from my childhood, that glorious time when I was still so innocent of so much. Death was a fake scene from the cowboy or war movies (I once saw an actor “die” on screen and then get up— the folks in the cutting room missed it), sex was a faint allure, time was not yet a ticking clock and a list to accomplish, it was music, swirling and looping and unfolding and swelling and slowing and carrying me along in its fantastic journey of imagination. Trouble was Beaver being lectured by Ward about a little white lie, evil was Eddie Haskell’s fake politeness.
Soon to come was the apple I wished I never had to eat—not the Snow White one that put me into a stupor, but the Garden of Eden one that taught me about nuclear weapons and lynchings and Hitler and the NRA and a thousand other evils that Eddie Haskell never dreamed of in his wildest nightmare. "Why, oh why, do we treat each other and ourselves so badly, why do we needlessly slaughter animals and clearcut forests and dump poison in rivers, how can we dare to imagine a God that tells us to kill or threatens an eternity of hellfire if we worship a god with a different name?” my rapidly vanishing innocence called out. And I’m still trying to figure it out. When you have even one glimpse of time stopping in a school library with everyone happily working around you, the sense that you could love each one more than you or they imagined, that you could love this life as it deserves to be loved, that paradise is right under our nose and at our fingertips, the contrast of all the evil afoot is more than a mortal can bear.
That both exist side-by-side is the hardest lesson of human incarnation. That grace and beauty and love exist at all and occasionally descend upon us like a mother’s sweet lullaby, stops the clocks, lifts the veils of ignorance and reveals a glory as simple as a baby’s smile, as inevitable as the shifting chords of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, is a blessing beyond words. I knew I would fail miserably at catching this radiance in the net of language and I have. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I give thanks that innocence has not abandoned me, that I can remember innocence not as a temporary or na├»ve condition of childhood, but as a faculty of the human soul still ripe for the plucking. There’s no way not to eat the apple of the knowledge of good and evil, but the surprise is that it can still be sweet.
And so it is. Happy Thanksgiving vacation.

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