Innocence in mind and heart has become a lost virtue in our increasingly godless society. While parents often tried to protect their children from learning the harsh and often cruel realities of the world until at least puberty, today purveyors and despoilers of this youthful innocence have entered into the playroom with early sex education, vulgarities of all sorts and adult fads in dress and speech.
Peer pressure through the social media among those who have already gone over to the other side makes childhood even more difficult. The term baby doll has long represented a sexually active young woman with child-like characteristics or even sometimes a pre-teen who has been thrown into the adult mix of sexual trafficking and the drug culture. Kids grow up physically much faster today as so many diets seem laced with all kinds of synthetic hormones that reduce the age of puberty, sometimes as early as eight years old. The Baby Doll serves as the avatar of the future for young women. It is a sad and serious commentary on the state of America’s declining culture.
This has made it more imperative that those untainted by the world, the flesh and the devil maintain a spirit of childlike innocence and wonder that can ward off these pernicious influences. This does not mean that one should be immature or a Peter Pan in mid-flight who just refuses to grow up.
To the contrary it means that adults should make a conscious endeavor to look, not to the trash that society is selling, but to faith, morality and all the virtues of self-giving and sacrifice can preserve that sense of purity in one’s heart and soul. While the body grows, the soul develops inner defenses of faith, hope and charity to combat the external forces that would tear it apart.
I have always quipped that I was only 12 years old emotionally. Maybe that explains the great attraction and love for baseball I have enjoyed most of life. The old Brooklyn Dodger catcher, Roy Campanella, used to say that to play baseball there has to be a lot of the little boy in you. I have noticed a pattern in my life with my own children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren that they all seemed to outgrow me at and about their 13th year. My last grandchild turned 14 in December of 2016. There is that empty nest again!
They were all cool with me before they turned 13. They usually laughed at my corny jokes and I could get down and dirty with them on the floor as we roughhoused. We played all sorts of athletics games–indoors and were generally a menace to anything breakable. But when their biological clocks struck 13, Dad, Uncle Bill or Daddy B had lost his adolescent magic and wasn’t quite as cool or as fun to be with. When they laughed at my jokes I often felt they were laughing at me.
I knew that society would take that innocence away from them and they could no longer share my simple joy of living and experiencing what I call the sense of Wow in everyday things. It is still one of my favorite expressions.
I have seen that look in the eyes of teenagers that they used to call the 1000-yard stare. Originally it referred to soldiers who had seen too much and done too much that could not be shared with the people back home. It is a cold and hard stare that looks straight through you or more accurately over you. It often says to me that they have gotten themselves involved sexually way before their time and they feel themselves lost in a vortex of despair and guilt. Fortunately most navigate their weary way through the choppy waters of their age to their homeport. Some do not.
When they turn 20 they usually revive a little more interest in me. My oldest grandchild just hit that benchmark and looks at me with a newly found relevance. But it is a different kind of relationship and little like it was before. The natural teacher in me took the baton from my child within. We now talk of what it is like to face a world full of wonder, surprises and grave consequences. However, the inner child is still alive and well in my soul.
Every time I see a small child in a stroller or seated in a high chair at some restaurant—especially the little girls–I see the face of God. I see it in their smiles, their laughter and occasionally their tears. It is this simple joy that lifts my soul and is free for everyone.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps that’s what the epitaph of addict and poet Francis Thompson’s tombstone means: when you get to heaven look for me in God’s nursery. I hope that being only emotionally 12-years old will give me a head start.