As I stated in my introduction to That Which We Already Know, I’ll be composing a book here on this blog in as close to final form as I can muster. I want to thank everyone who’s been following the project so far. For those who might be new readers I’ll simply state that in the first installment of this chapter I recalled an episode from my childhood in which I headed off with a heavy heart to spend the afternoon in what I would now refer to as meditation. Looking back, I must have realized I was falling – falling from that state of childhood grace that we only seem to recognize once it’s gone. What are we to make of such a fall?
Part I, Chapter 1 – A Child in Eden (first continuation)
The Nursery was my Garden of Eden. Within its ample confines I dwelt for years in a state of childhood grace, neither needing nor wanting for anything that hadn’t already been offered. But just as the first man and woman were cast out of that mythical garden in a fall from grace that we yet ponder to this day, so I ponder my departure from that paradise and my fall from that state of being that only a child or the very wisest amongst us can know.
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden,” that mythical first woman and man were told, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (NIV) Of course you know that Eve and Adam did indeed eat from the forbidden fruit, but their death turned out to be a metaphorical rather than a physical one. What they died to was the state of grace that they had hitherto enjoyed in that garden paradise of Eden.
We might also consider this story from a more scientific-minded perspective as one relating to how the human race rose up from amongst all other species to possess the knowledge and self-awareness that we modern humans possess. Such intellectual capacity put almost god-like power in our hands, and the incredible responsibility to use that power wisely lest we end up sowing the seeds of our own destruction. Either way, the story is one of innocence lost.
Of course I wouldn’t be bringing up this story within the context of a discussion of childhood if I didn’t also believe that each of us relives it as we grow into adulthood. We begin life in our own personal Garden of Eden of intimate belonging and union with all things; but as the process of our individuation progresses, and our self-awareness and other-awareness become more refined, we begin our inexorable fall. The very process of our growing up involves our eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and in doing so the child that we once were begins a fall from grace.
Depending upon the vicissitudes of life, our fall might come tragically early or it might come blessedly late. It might be precipitated by some traumatic event never to be forgotten or it might occur so gradually as to leave not even a single remembrance of childhood’s departure in its wake. Either way, we all at some point gaze back through the mists of time and wonder of the child that we once were. What did we know then that we’ve forgotten along the way? Can we even begin to comprehend our loss?
I was taking a walk in a city park recently – one that is quite beautiful and natural despite its being in the middle of a dense urban landscape. I came to a bridge over a recently restored waterway and stood there for a time watching some turtles down below. They were sunning themselves, as turtles do, on some flotsam that had collected alongside the bridge abutment, unperturbed by the bottles and plastic and sundry other garbage floating in their midst. As soon as I laid eyes on them I realized that I was witnessing something of what I’d lost in my fall from childhood grace.
The Nursery was not the most pristine of natural environments either. It was a managed resource – infrequently managed, yes, but managed nonetheless. To us children, however, it was wilderness. No, the stream separating the birch grove from the hall of climbing oaks was not a naturally flowing one. It was more an extension of the storm drains up the way, silted in with whatever had been scoured from the roofing shingles and the asphalt pavement up beyond our neighborhood, but to us it was a treasure. Likewise, the industrial castoffs half hidden in the grass beneath the honey locust trees were more curiosities worthy of exploration than they were eyesores. And if I were to see for the very first time today that deep gash of a ravine eroded into the meadow sloping down from the ball field, I would surely lament the mismanagement of the land that had allowed such a wound to be inflicted. At the time, though, I saw nothing of the sort. It was a rugged canyon, a lunar landscape, a place to pow-wow, and a place to be alone.
The Nursery was our beloved realm, regardless of what blemishes and imperfections my discriminating adult mind might impose upon its memory. Likewise, that city waterway, complete with the trash washed there from the humans living just beyond, is the beloved realm of turtles and fish and waterfowl – regardless of what might make me cringe. For just as animal discernment is oriented towards that which promotes life, so a child’s discernment is oriented towards that which induces wonder. The discriminations and assessments and judgments of the fully developed adult mind will come later, after having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In closing, let me just quickly say that the 2014 Live Below The Line challenge begins this Monday, April 28. The challenge is intended to bring awareness to the reality that many people face living in poverty – that of living on $1.50 worth of food per day. Interested readers might want to check out the series of blog posts that I wrote detailing my experience of last year's challenge. I hope you enjoy it. And good luck if you are also taking the challenge!
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
Copyright 2014 by Mark Frank