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Be Like Little Children: How Not to Lose Wonder

‘Be Like Little Children’: How Not to Lose Wonder

As the freshness of childhood and the exuberance of youth fade, and life assumes a regularity and familiarity, it is all too easy to become jaded and blasé.

Instead of seeing the world with the child’s eyes of wonder—as full of goodness, beauty, and love—or as an adventure always filled with surprises and hope, the world appears déjà vu—the same old thing. The art of living keeps alive the vision of the child and resists the tendency to look upon life as a dreary monotony full of disappointment.

No matter a person’s age or experience, he can be childlike, fun-loving, and see with clarity and amazement the enchantment and magic of the real world.

A Cycle of Sadness?

Every person must resist the outlook of Shakespeare’s melancholic Jacques whose famous speech (“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players”) portrays life as an endless cycle of sadness that begins with the “the infant,/ Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” and concludes with the old man in the state of “second childishness and mere oblivion”—each of the seven ages of man imbued with the heaviness and drabness of some form of melancholy from “the schoolboy… creeping like snail unwillingly to school” to the disappointed lover “Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Instead of seeing the drama of man’s life as a series of sad disappointments or anti-climaxes, the adult who has retained his childlike nature sees the chapters of the human journey as adventures with surprises that await him with each new age.

In Hawthorne’s “The Chimaera” from A Wonder Book, Bellerophon arrives at the Fountain of Pirene with a bridle to capture the winged-horse Pegasus, “a snow-white steed, with beautiful silvery wings” and “as wild, and as swift, and as buoyant, in his flight through the air, as any eagle that ever soared into the clouds.”

Seeking knowledge of the majestic stallion, Bellerophon asks an old man, a farmer, and two children for information about the mythical horse reported to drink from the fountain. According to the old man, Pegasus is a faded, distant memory that he barely recalls. He vaguely remembers once believing in a winged horse and barely recalls seeing foot prints near the fountain. He thinks it must have been his imagination fabricating these pictures: “And to tell you the truth, I doubt whether I ever did see him.”

The old man is too jaded and dull to see the wonder and miracle of the glorious horse galloping in its majesty. World-weary, he no longer sees the world with the eyes of a child.

The literal-minded farmer ridicules the idea of a flying horse. What good is a winged horse that does not pull a plough and perform the labors on a farm? The whole picture is far-fetched and nonsensical: “Why, friend, are you in your senses? … No, no! I don’t believe in Pegasus. There never was such a ridiculous kind of horse-fowl made!”

The farmer’s conception of a horse reduces the glory of a majestic stallion to a beast of burden useful only for farming the land and transporting goods. The wonder of the horse’s speed, the gracefulness of its movement, and its magnificent appearance the farmer never sees because of his blurred, tired vision that views the animal only in terms of horse power. The child is absent in the farmer for whom animals mean work, not beauty. Horses were created for the productivity of the farmer, not for the enjoyment of children.

A Child’s Clarity and Perception

When Bellerophon asks two children if they have ever seen Pegasus, he learns that they have heard him, seen him, and noticed his reflection in the fountain. A girl vividly recalls seeing “a large white bird, a very great way up in the air,” and she distinctly heard “a brisk and melodious neigh” when she once came to the fountain to fill a pitcher.

A boy testifies that he too never once questioned the reality of the flying horse because of the many times he saw Pegasus descend from the sky: “I saw him yesterday and many times before.” To the two children the winged horse is not just an invention from a silly story and not just a farm animal but a wonder of speed and a miracle of beauty to behold. They do not imagine or invent the winged horse but see him, hear him, and remember him.

With their keen eyes and sensitive awareness the girl and the boy see the wonder of the real, the true nature of the horse whose speed and motion compare to the flight of birds. They have not been dulled with age or jaded with repetition.

In Hawthorne’s story, Bellerophon discovers the truth about Pegasus from the two children, not from the two older men. With clear eyes and perceptive ears they notice the reflection of the horse in the water and the sound of the horse’s neighing—signs and hints that reveal the miracle of the horse to anyone willing to be a child and see creation as a divine gift that remains an everlasting source of joy throughout all the seven ages of man, not merely during the freshness of childhood and the springtime of life.

In a famous line from Hopkins’ “God Grandeur,” “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” The true sources of joy and wonder do not diminish with age but always burst and surprise with the same excitement that Pegasus inspires when Bellerophon and the children finally see him as they wait and listen at the Fountain of Pirene. They are amazed “and thought that never was any sight so beautiful as this, nor ever a horse’s eyes so wild and spirited as those of Pegasus.”

What the girl and the boy see, know, and remember the old man and the farmer can also perceive.

Pegasus is a sight to behold for both old and young.

Header Image CC inneriart

About Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian

The son of Armenian immigrants, Dr. Kalpakgian has taught at Simpson College, Christendom College and Wyoming Catholic College. He has authored several books and written for many Catholic publications. Meet Dr. Kalpakgian | See his Books
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