When I was a child, we’d sit and play with pine cones and twigs and… Nah; just kidding. (But we did occasionally play with pine cones – pelting each other with them – and sticks make excellent swords) Never mind what we played with, I think the crucial word here is the verb. We played. Summer evenings, the street was full of children that laughed and argued and ran like crazy from tree to tree as we played one game after the other.
Our mothers called us in when it was too dark to see more than the blur of each other’s t-shirts, and we’d wash our dirty feet and drink a glass of milk before going to bed, our heads already full of plans for the games we’d play tomorrow.
I remember my childhood as precisely that; a childhood, a period of wide-eyed wonder, of innocence. Once lost, that innocence can never be regained – it’s a bit like tasting the forbidden fruit. Once you crunch your teeth into that beautiful red apple, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to forget the taste or the texture, you’ll never be able to revert to a “pre-apple” existence. Ask Adam and Eve…
Some people go through their entire live as innocents. They see miracles where we see cobwebs, they greet every new acquaintance as a potential future friend. The more jaded among us conclude we already have the friends we want or need, and we don’t have time with miraculous cobwebs, we use the vacuum cleaner to keep our corners nice and clean.
Innocence is closely related to hope. When Orphan Annie sings “Tomorrow”, she epitomizes innocence. Her life is harsh and brutal, adults in her life have consistently failed her, and yes she still believes that somewhere down the line a bright future awaits her. Typical melodrama, the type Victor Hugo so disliked, which is why in Les Miserables, hope deserts most of his characters, starting with Fantine (you know; “I had a dream”). However, even Victor Hugo couldn’t quite resist the tug of a Happily Ever After ending – at least for some of his characters – so I guess he still held on to some shredded remains of his childhood innocence.
Innocence is a state in which reality has as yet not reared its ugly head – at least not to its full extent. There are things our children don’t need to know – heck, there are things most of us don’t need or want to know – not if we want them to chase their dreams like soap-bubbles in the wind. And we do want our children to believe in dreams, don’t we? We want them to believe in love, in kindness. We want them to meet new people under the assumption that the person whose hand they’re shaking is a good person, not someone who potentially could drag them off and abuse them.
Fear enters all our lives at some point. Dreams are tarnished and torn apart, our fellowman will at times disappoint and leave us gasping with betrayal and loss.
Some of will give up all hope and become cynical and cold, regarding life as game at which one must excel to keep Number One on top – a very lonely existence, all in all.
Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to cast our minds back to our days of innocence, to evenings running with our friends with the warmth of the setting sun on our shoulders. We will recall days of carefree joy, years when life stretched out before us as a tantalizing promise, a hope of brighter and better tomorrows. And because we do remember, we will be capable of meeting life with hope and expectations, clasping the hand of an unknown someone under the premise that this one will not disappoint, this one will be true. After all, we’re still clinging to the dream that deep inside, all of us are good.
So here’s to innocence; to the years when all of us were young, when the world remained our oyster, a place to be explored and enjoyed. May we all be granted the possibility of passing that particular experience forward, because seriously, is there anything more beautiful than the sight of a young child, eyes alight with eagerness at the thought of all their endless tomorrows? I think not.