One of the more difficult challenges in life as an adult is to balance the need to effectively cope with the demands of life while not losing one’s sense of childlike wonder and appreciation that make life worth living. Being an intellectual and analytical and deeply critical sort of person, it is far easier for me to express my criticism of that which falls short, and it is not always as easy to show wholehearted and sincere appreciation, at least not online. While in person it may at times be possible to show a childlike sense of enjoyment, all too often as a writer the distance from readers and the emotional distance from matters talked about (except where they strike particularly close to home, meriting a harsh response), makes it harder to see the innocent and wholehearted enjoyment of what this life has to offer.
This life does not reward or appreciate innocence nearly well enough. In many ways, I have an ambivalent relationship with innocence, similar to (and related to) a great deal of other ambivalent relationships in my life. On the one hand, there are substantial aspects of innocence (like the freedom from fear or anxiety or nervousness) that I have never known within the course of my memory. By the time I was old enough to remember life, I was largely as I am, a resourceful and intensely serious and observant person with a huge amount of anxiety and concern about the dangerous and hostile world around me, a world that showed immense hostility to me almost from the moment of birth. At some basic level, I have no capacity for the nostalgia about the past that I see often around me, since I have never known a time that was not full of immense pressure and that required a great deal of resources for coping. It is difficult on one level to appreciate what one has never really known and cannot remember.
Nevertheless, somewhat paradoxically, on another level I have remained far more childlike and innocent at an age where I find myself not feeling very old at all. Most of what I find the most pleasurable in life, such pleasures as I know, are fairly straightforward and reasonably innocent, whether they be long hours of good conversation spent with good friends enjoying good food, or my love of games, of beautiful sights (be they people or man-made structures or scenes of creation), or my love of gentle and tender affection, is itself rather innocent, and in many ways my enjoyment of such matters on the level of wonder is the same as when I was young. Travel has not dimmed my appreciation of God’s creation, even if it much of what I have learned over life has made me rather suspicious and wary of those people who are general such poor stewards of nations and institutions. Even for such a cynical and hard-bitten person such as myself, I still find myself surprised by my wonder at the preservation of innocence and beauty in what has been around me, surprised enough to respond with innocent and wholehearted appreciation, even if it does make life more complicated sometimes.
I remember as a seventh grader watching in some incomprehension and surprise at two of my classmates rolling around in the grass outside of the gynmasium where we had to go once we were finished with lunch (we were not allowed to remain at our seats and chat with friends once we finished eating, but had to go to the gymnasium for the rest of the 30-minute lunch period). Even twenty years later, I still wonder why so many of our young people have seemed to be in such a hurry to lose such innocence as they possess. At some point, we all move from innocence to experience (even if that takes a long time for some of us in some areas of life!), but we ought not to be in a huge hurry to do so before our time. It may seem particularly ironic to some that I might think this, but my appreciation of innocence and decency and tenderness as I see around me does not include a desire to corrupt it or ruin it prematurely. Nevertheless, we must all be careful that we are not the destroyers of the beauty and wonder that we appreciate so much, as if we were tourists ruining the beauty that we came to see in the world around us through our presence and our enjoyment of that terrain.
I hope that the day never comes when I am unable to appreciate the wonder in what is around. No matter how dark this life can be, a sense of wonder helps us appreciate that as was the case for Samwise Gangee in the land of Mordor, the clouds that darken our skies and block out the light are in our atmosphere, and beyond them is the wide expanse of the heavens beyond, full of bright lights and immense space. May we all develop the ability to recognize the beauty of what God has created in people and places and things without disrupting that beauty or innocence through our often blundering and misguided actions. For if we desire to appreciate innocence on this earth for much longer, we will need to reward it better and preserve it for at least a little bit longer than is often the case. And then we may ask God to give us wonder, so that He may give it to us not just for a brief season, but for as long as we live.