This morning I woke up in the house I grew up in, to the sound of my parents having a discussion in the kitchen about whether they wanted toast or waffles for breakfast. My sister and one of my brothers and I managed to come home for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, which is usually considered the unofficial start of summer here in the United States. There are parades and ceremonies to honor America’s war dead, and most people at some point will be cooking outdoors or attending picnics and other such events. Here at Chez Père for example, steaks wrapped in rosemary will be made on the barbecue this evening.
So as I lay there not quite awake but not quite asleep either, I thought about the fact that I was truly blessed to be able to have this experience – a kind of momentary return to childhood. I have friends much younger than I am who have not been able to wake up in this way for years, because one or both of their parents have died, or the family home has been sold. Of course once I got up and got going, the reality of not being a child anymore came flooding back – the aches and pains of approaching middle age, the concerns of adulthood in checking the phone for messages, and so on.
No matter how old we get, most of us will always have that feeling of wanting to go home, where things are always safe and familiar. I know people whose lifestyles at present are far more comfortable now than the circumstances they grew up in, who still enjoy going back home to see the people they love, but also to just relax and be themselves. Others have not had upbringings that evoke such feelings of comfort and familiarity. For those people, the idea of waking up in the house they grew up in would be more akin to waking up in a nightmare.
Perhaps because happy memories of a drowsy, holiday weekend back home are even rarer for these people, the thought of being able to wake up rested and content in a loving environment are the more cherished because they were infrequent. While Thomas Wolfe’s classic Depression-era novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” would suggest trying to return home to childhood dreams is a failure, the truth is that most of us love the chance to go home again. Even if it is only to a brief moment of childhood, or even if we are still living in the same town where we grew up, and our parents are just across the street.
No one, no matter how sophisticated, intellectual, and accomplished they may become, is immune from feeling as though they would like to have a return to some of the simpler aspects of being a child again. If you are one of these people, try to imagine not worrying about anything more in life than being stung by a bee when playing outside, or whether you will be having peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Then tell me whether that is not preferable to worrying about finances, career, politics, health, romance, or other matters.
In Christianity we are aware of the importance of trying to keep some aspect of childhood in our lives no matter how old we get. In fact, Christ explicitly tells His Disciples that unless they become like children, they will not enter the Kingdom of God. Yet regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, Jesus’ command – not a suggestion – to His followers is actually rather sound.
What are the qualities that we see in children that He is talking about, here? Perhaps we could list things like creativity, a sense of imagination and wonder, affection and tenderness toward others, a sense of fun, obedience and respect for one’s elders, asking for help when we need it and can’t manage by ourselves, etc. True, a more jaundiced eye might look at children and see all sorts of bad things they often do, but then those are the people who see no value in jumping on your parents’ big bed in the morning .