Thursday, February 07, 2013

Surprised by innocence

Commenting on Wes Anderson's film Michael Chabon says this about childhood:
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
A beautiful description. I honestly thought, not being a child person at all, that I would be with Virginia Woolf: waiting for intelligent conversation, patiently enduring the preceding years of silliness. Having had a rather dark childhood in some ways, I certainly did not sport any dewy eyed illusions either about any inherent goodness and gentleness in children.

Well, I guess I did not know small children so well - and I didn't. Sure, there are plenty of signs of non-gentleness and non-goodness there, of possibilities to come, no perfect innocence anywhere. But so much innocence, so much vulnerability and generosity. So much so, that having them growing up into this world, to harden up enough to survive in this world, to develope enough cynicism and self-protection to endure this world, does make the prospect of intelligent conversation to appear in rather less glamorous light.

I just didn't know small children that well. Of course, this is what it takes, currently and so far, to live, to develope into awareness and responsibility. We can have a rough coming of it or somewhat less rough or very rough, but there are no easy ways into personhood: we lose many things of much value on the way, and often have to patiently relearn back into habit of trust, love and generosity.

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