There’s a certain innocence I would love to recover. I watch my son wonder at the world and I envy him. In his mind, bugs and dust floating on sunbeams and wet paint are marvelous wonders of a world that is, at its core, simple. Maybe that is what I really miss – a simple world. A world where the complicated nature of adult lives is once again black and white.Things are good or they are bad. I used to believe that, but I am not so sure anymore. That isn’t to say I don’t believe in evil. Nor is it to say we can’t call things out as wrong. I know some people will take issue with what I am saying, mostly because, deep down, we want the world to be as simple as black and white. But isn’t. Yes, goodness and rightness exist against a backdrop of evil and wrong. But between them is a world of gray.
My son doesn’t know that. He knows colors and bubbles and puddles of water. Even thinking about him jumping joyously into a puddle makes my heart warm. Those are his days. They are not moments in a day filled with to-do’s, phone calls and explaining one’s thoughts and actions. They are entire days filled with engaging the goodness of a sandbox. I used to know that world, now I know of that world. I see glimpses of it around me. But they are moments in the middle of hurried gulps of coffee and tasks.
I often wonder what happened. But I don’t need to wonder long for the answer is all together too simple. I grew up. You grew up. We grew up. When we grow up the world loses innocence and simplicity and becomes complicated and painful. Years of wounds, harsh words, arguments, and struggle push the innocence into the deep recesses of our souls only to appear in quiet moments where we are caught off guard.
Doesn’t it seem that way? That we are caught off guard by the beauty and wonder of the world as adults? We don’t seem to expect beauty; we are surprised by it. As adults beauty and wonder do not exist under rocks and with the splash of a stick in the water. To see them there would require us to slow down and lower our guard. To put aside our cynicism and lay down our fears. We know too much about the world and it’s cruel way of forcing us to compromise our beliefs. I do not believe in ending life, and yet my wife and I had to end a life to save hers. And rationality will give good cause, but the world is gray and my son knows nothing of that world yet. God, do I want to protect him from that world. But I can’t. I shouldn’t. I won’t. Because shielding him from that world would be to treat him as fragile and weak. He is not. I am not. We are not.
Saying we are not weak is not to say we are stoic. I believe our strength is seen in our ability to enter into the fullness of all that we feel. Joy, grief, hope, despair, compassion, empathy, and fondness are all signs of strength. Teaching my son to embrace the full range of human emotion with courage of heart is more than just a task of mine as a father, it is a way of engaging the world I hope to model and pass down.
The world will come. My son will grow up. I will grow up. We will grow up. And we will fight for innocence. Not ignorance, no, that is something entirely different. We will fight for the innocence that comes from embracing all life throws at us. Ups and downs. Right turns and wrong turns. Start ups and fall downs. We will embrace all of it together. Which seems to take us beyond hope. For we don’t just hope for goodness and beauty when we are innocent. We expect it. Innocence, it seems to me, is the assumption and expectation that all is safe and good. I find myself hoping for, not just a beauty that washes over the world, but a return of innocent expectation devoid of cynicism and resignation that washes over me.
I don’t know that I can protect my son from the cynicism and resignation I often experience. Years of experiencing disappointment and the ugliness of the world have stolen my innocence. But there are glimmers of its return. This evening I had a water fight with my son in the backyard. I laughed, without a shadow of cynicism, as he chased me and threw water over me. We danced to a rhythm of squeals and laughter as we baptized each other with the fresh water of a spring day’s innocence. And then, before we went in to share a meal, I got down on my knees with a bucket of water before my son and washed his feet. I dipped my hands in water and rinsed off the grass clippings and dirt, and in that moment, beauty abounded.
My prayer is not that my son is protected from the world. Nor is my prayer that my son is unaffected by the world. No, the world will bump him and bruise him. But he is strong. I am strong. We are strong.
My prayer is that his strength allows him – and you and me – to see through the grayness of life to the beauty and wonder that abound.