Somewhere in the past year, or five years, or maybe over the last decade, I elected to take back my childhood.
The facts are simple. We all have pain in our lives. Some of it stems from aspects of childhood that are not so pretty. We get hurt in some way. Suffer some criticism or abuse. It sticks with us through our twenties and thirties. Then one day we wake up and realize the source. Then the work begins. Digging in the dirt. Just like a kid again.
But that brings back memories. Behind our garage in our Lancaster, Pennsylvania there was a patch of clay exposed to the sky. It was a tremendous place to take an old household spoon and create real tunnels through which our toys cars could pass. We spent many afternoons digging entire cities into that soil, and then rain would come along and take them all down.
Yet that would make puddles along our long driveway. These could be dammed up with leaves and sticks and mud. Then we’d release the dam and watch the satisfying flow of water from one side of the puddle to the other.
These simple occupations of time were dreamlike. There were creeks to explore as well, and salamanders to catch.
Then one day a sparrow hawk landed on a laundry pole above my head. It was so close, and so alive. It flicked and jittered on the post, staring at me with a dark eye. Instantly I was mesmerized, and my life’s interest found its focus.
All of nature called me. From then on, I wanted to see more. Know more. Do more. Childhood expanded and carried through my adult life.
But not before all those baseball games played on makeshift fields. And basketball games played on cold, wet macadam. We naively imitated our heroes. Sports felt real.
Yet something of the pain caused by a single incident in my youth remained. A day when my loving father erupted in anger with my brothers and delivered a sound beating in the kitchen. Something in that moment really harmed me, and combined with the teasing and exasperation passed down the line, really did cause harm, and led to consternation as an adult. That needed healing.
Having courage to admit that is key. Yet it is just as important to understand that not all anger stems from being hurt as a child, or even wronged as an adult. Some anger comes in response to the ignorant angst of the world, where selfish aims and political evil too often reign.
People too easily forget that they have a responsibility to be angry with some things in this world. To avoid that job is to remain too much a child. We see that in the shortsighted notion that a childlike faith is to only think like a child. That is wrong. To have a childlike faith is to trust that even when you are wrong or wronged, God is still with you. That is the true role of any father (or mother). To correct and to forgive.
That brand of childhood relationship needs to continue throughout life. It is the trust that despite persistent pain and lack of mercy wrought by the world, there is justice to be found.
Freed from the need for retribution or revenge, we can go on being excited and thrilled by the world, and by creation. We can dig in the clay of our imagination, and wonder at the wilderness of light that reaches us from beyond. That is childhood.