Innocence and Experience and a Love Note to Literature

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It’s a quiet moment. With windows open and the heaving sounds of crickets and the hum of cars passing. And I pull out the crinkly thin pages of poetry, a gift from my PhD supervisor to my then-infant son (who is now 7). Just thumbing through the pages brings me back to someone I used to know, to a girl who had time to be enthralled with word and rhythms and music and laughter. To a childhood on the cusp of adulthood, where feelings were big and the future was ‘out there’; where love and loss and life were all in the distance. Where songs meant something and poetry meant hope and moments to pause and feel the resonance of words. And the future was big and full and promising.

And now as I thumb through Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience I can’t help but think what a very appropriate gift, not only to my son, but to me. The woman who gave me and my son a reminder of the delight and dance of words, a reminder of light and darkness together, she’s dead now, passed away so tragically early. And I’m hit with the heaving weight of all the world. Of death coming too early — for both my PhD supervisor and for a young girl in her 20s we know of who is being taken off of life support right now. Of old women with lipstick on their teeth who can’t remember who is who anymore. Of aunts with cancer. Of mothers, and fathers, and friends on drugs to keep the physical or mental or emotional pain at bay.

And I think of my seven-year-old son and his homemade light saber and his clothes that he’s been wearing for days with peanut butter stains so that he can look like Luke Skywalker. And he’s such a boy, a child so free from the cares that blindside us as we grow. The weight and weariness of the world. But he has a pile of books on his nightstand that he’s carefully stacked with big titles like Treasure Island, and the Wingfeather Saga, and Peter Pan, and he can read them quietly in his room all by himself now. Books that open up worlds and feelings and paint bright rays of hope. He still has light under his skin. But even at 7, or perhaps he’s just a bit of an old soul, there are tinges of real knowing that cloud the boisterousness of his boyhood.

And then I’m interrupted by my 9-month-old infant needing milk. And as I hold her it all feels so fleeting, this childhood, this life. Again I remember that I spend my days with grocery lists and carpools and folding clothes and twiddle away my time with social media, with words and pictures which do not give me much pause or restoration or life. But these four little creatures with their Legos everywhere, who are entirely too loud too much of the time, who always need their mama, they have entirely too short a time until the weight of the world will come crashing in, where they will bleed and feel powerless.

So we will begin anew. We will read together. I will read poetry in the quiet night. And we will build a present full of glorious light.

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7 Comments

  1. It’s like you’ve been reading my mind. This post captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking but am unable to put to words. We need writers like you to capture in words the thoughts that fly through our minds. Thank you.

    I’ve had mortality on my mind a lot as people I know struggle with cancers both treatable and untreatable. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how to share with my children (and when to share it) the realities of the difficulty of life. It’s something they must know and grapple with, and even at their tender ages they start to see and know that life is both transient and difficult.

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    1. Tammy, thanks so much for your encouragement and comment. It helps to know that what I spend time thinking and writing about has resonance. It’s so tricky, isn’t it: trying to figure out how to help children grow?

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  2. Beautiful, Ash. Made my heart sink. And yes I do believe your seven year old is a bit of an old soul! Also, made me want to remember a girl (me) who used to write poetry and other things. You really should do some kind of workshop on helping people write their stories.

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