It is perhaps the happiest movie ever made. Today, it seems Pollyanna positive, a universe away from every ailment that besets us. No climate change – except rain! No GFC, no terrorism, no mandatory detention centres, no corruption or greed, just a bunch of people gleefully happy to be alive. The cynic dismisses it as fluff, at best naive, at worst, avoidance of ‘the issues.’ The sophist knows better than to fall for fluff pieces. But then the sophist forgets childhood.
Last weekend, I was mowing the lawn – which is erupting from my yard so quickly right now it’s almost an action adventure watching it grow – as a storm approached. The air grew dense with humidity. My body was a manly blend of mower fuel, grass clippings and sweat, I was rushing to finish before the storm arrived. The sky grew dark, the wind turned, and as I hoed into the last strip, down it came, in torrents. I rushed the mower under the eaves and heaved the last catcher of mulch into a garden bed. Now drenched, I ran back under cover, watching the tropical deluge lash my now pristine carpet of green.
Then I noticed a nudge. It started in my body, but I dismissed it. It tugged on my heart like a restless child asking dad if he can have an ice cream. It was a restless child – no, an excited child. A wild child. He didn’t know about sensible and serious, about chores and responsibilities. He saw the water cascading off the gutter and he wanted to join in the dance. It didn’t take me long to respond. I ripped off my shirt and ran under the overflowing gutter as delicious water, warmed by the roof, sluiced over my hot, tired body.
The metamorphosis was instant. I was transported, like I am by the surf, to the world of the boy. Life immediate and unmediated. I was rejuvinated in a way that even a cold beer couldn’t challenge. No doubt my neighbours thought me mad. You know, I almost wanted them to, like King David dancing before the ark of the covenant and disgusting his wife Michal. David’s response to Michal did not seek to restore David’s respectability; it did the opposite: “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour” (2 Samuel 6:22).
That’s the trick of the inner child. He/she has no ego. It’s what Jesus meant about who gets to see the Kingdom, the Reality. The only ones who see it are uinvested in ego – children, the poor, slave girls. Back then, we hadn’t learned how to construct a projection to would earn us power, prestige and possessions. We didn’t know about a future and a past, we only knew how to fall into the now, naked. Because we were so young, the grown ups let us at it. Sometimes our abandon would even lead them into some giddy nonsense, for a brief moment.
In grade 8, I was waiting outside a classroom with a dozen other students, waiting for the previous class to finish. The afternoon sun streamed up the corridor and found a student’s watch face, bouncing a circle of light across the wall. To this day I don’t know what came over me, but before I knew where I was and who I was with and what age I was supposed to be, I started slapping that circle, until the all too predictable laughter of my peers buried me in humiliation. The shame stood over me and pronounced these words with merciless rancour: “You will never ever allow yourself to be humiliated like this again, do you understand?”
This is how we forget. Shame. Humiliation. Little do we know that these are gifts to remind us of the impotence of our constructed selves. But so reflected are we in adolescent identity, we would rather a physical assualt than a public shaming. For most, it can take the best part of a lifetime to allow ourselves to hear again the playful curiosity of a child. By then, its often too late to stand half naked under and overflowing gutter.
Way back home in the childhood of my past
I ask what becomes of a man who leaves behind
The memory of youth, of youth
Instead of looking back to live again.
Our limbic, mammalian brains tend to oscillate between threat (pain) and reward (pleasure), spending way too much time down the threat end of the spectrum. Self-help manuals suggest we spend time down the reward end, but how? It’s simple, really. Curiosity. A non-judging inquiry into what is happening around us, asking not the question “why?” but “what now?” Fearful avoidance or violent aggression are the usual responses of the first, fighting and flighting our way to isolation. Participation is curiosity’s response. Immediate and unmediated.
So I sat here at my keyboard with Charlie Hebdo and mandatory detention and theological questions and instead of trying to sound clever, I let the inner child chase spots of light. Let the humilation come.