Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace. ~Eugene O’Neill
The fireflies were out in full force tonight, their little behinds blinking, signaling, and flirting away in the dark woods behind my house. I took off my glasses and watched the blinking blurs zigzag through all dimensions, and I wondered — what did our ancestors see around them before glasses were invented? I myself could definitely see faeries with their little lanterns just out of reach, being busy little beauties, doing whatever little faeries do.
What else did our primitive ancestors see?
No wonder ghouls and Bigfoot and ghosts were so much a part of our history. Puffs of mist, the meeting of warm air and cold, could easily be mistaken for a ghostly apparition. Everyone thinks squirrels do nothing but chitter throughout the day. Few know that their agitated squeal outweighs that of a crow at times. Why wouldn’t that sound be translated as a banshee in the dark?
Modern day humans have lost touch with the mystic, the magical, the moronic. I suppose it makes more sense to know that moving lights across the night sky are airplanes and not spaceships, or that the little furry thing scurrying behind the rock in the yard is a striped chipmunk and not a hodag. But what’s the harm in thinking unicorns hide in the woods or the blinking bug derrieres are faeries with lanterns in the dark playing hide-and-seek? That the hill in the distance is really Mordor? That the path that disappears into the woods is really a bridge to another time?
I know writers tend to exaggerate when it comes to telling a story. But I’m talking about all of us and our ability to spin tales and our willingness to make things up as we go. We should test the bounds of physics, chemistry, religion, and countless other logistics that humans have taken so long to create. In the hands of a master puppeteer, a wooden creation can take a life of its own. What is so wrong with dancing along with the puppet? To step on the cracks on the sidewalk instead of over them?
I look at my grandbaby – everyone’s grandbaby – and admire their ability to pretend. They don’t know the difference between a box and a rocket ship, between a plate filled with noodles and plate filled with worms. We are always so quick to correct, to point out the truth, that we leave little room for imagination to grow. Of course we want our kids to know the truth. But through the effort of correction we also close the doors to maybe. When those doors are closed, especially if they are slammed shut, we often cannot get them open again. We have to “know” everything as if our lives depended on it. Indeed, we need to “know” not to stick our fingers in an electrical socket or to stand in the middle of the highway. But you know I’m not talking about that kind of knowing. We know lightning is an electric discharge from cloud to cloud or from cloud to earth seen as a flash of light. What ever happened to Zeus’s bolt from Olympus? And why can’t clouds be pillows?
Those who have lost the ability to pretend have lost a valuable part of their personal development. We are brought up to understand right from wrong, how things work. That part is important ― that part assures our survival. But so does pretending. A little twisting of reality doesn’t hurt anyone, especially if it is shared in a positive, good-natured way. We tell our kids that the tooth fairy takes the tooth under the pillow and leaves some monetary reward behind; sooner or later they figure out the truth, and chuckle that they were so gullible. So it is with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too. And as far as I can see, there are no mental scars in those who once believed.
Sometimes it’s just fun to get carried away with reality, make up your own stories, your own tales, of who, what, where, or why something “is”. The truth will always be the truth in one realm. But there was a time when truth was something totally different from modern days. Who’s to say that crop circles aren’t made by aliens? What’s wrong with “believing” that carrying an acorn will bring you luck and longevity, or if your right ear itches, someone is speaking well of you, but if your left ear itches, someone is speaking ill of you? There’s nothing wrong with a little nonsense sprinkled into your daily repertoire. Nothing wrong with spinning tales of angels bowling when it thunders or thinking dragons once roamed the earth. Make up your own stories. Create your own myths. Pretend that the lady in the grey coat you always see in the park is really Coco Channel. That the car parked under the tree in the alley is really Al Capone’s getaway car. Tell stories of ancient heroes or pixies or the Civil War. Are they true? What does it matter?
According to Reader’s Digest (http://www.rd.com/family/encourage-your-childs-imagination/), encouraging imagination builds self confidence (develops confidence in one’s abilities and their potential), boosts intellectual growth (helps to think symbolically), improves language skills (people who pretend do lots of talking and thinking, helping to boost vocabulary, improve sentence structure and enhance communication skills), develops social skills (explore relationships between family members, friends and co-workers and learn more about how people interact), and helps work out fears (pretending helps gain self control over confusing feelings).
So the next time you see something out of the corner of your eye, or gnarly branches that look eerily like monster arms, have no fear. It’s only Gandalf, Nessy, Frankenstein, and Apollo all knocking on your door, wanting to come in. Let them.
As long as they don’t stay for supper, you’re all right.