Growing up, I cannot count the number of times that I rode my bike or walked by myself or with friends down to these three places:
A drainage ditch about 10 houses down from my own (right in the middle of the picture between the 2 houses):
And then about a mile further, a collection of ponds and dirt walking/biking paths called Walden Ponds:
(Pictures all are courtesy of Bing Maps)
I remember returning home with glasses of tadpoles from the drainage ditch (as well as wet clothes from the times we slipped in or just plain started foraging our way through it), hunting for things in the shallows of the duck ponds, and chasing each other on our bikes on the paths around the Walden Ponds area. I have no idea today about how my parents felt as I biked off (although they definitely knew where I was going), but I thought about these three places the other day as I read the following article in The Week (reprinted from The New York Review of Books) by Michael Chabon:
Chabon talks of his experience on his bike growing up – maybe not duck ponds and drainage ditches, but a similar experience of journey
I could lose myself on vacant lots and playgrounds, in the alleyway behind the Wawa, in the neighbors’ yards, on the sidewalks. Anywhere, in short, I could reach on my bicycle, a 1970 Schwinn Typhoon, Coke-can red with a banana seat, a sissy bar, and ape-hanger handlebars.
He then notes the change that has taken place since his journeys around the neighborhood as a child:
The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.
The Wilderness of Childhood is gone and the days of adventure are past. Chabon continues by noting that this change has come about through a variety of sources – suburbanization, incessant media stories about the dangers of the world, the over-programming of children, and so forth – to the point that children are no longer “exploring” like they once did. He takes his argument a step further in wondering where the great stories of adventure will come from in the future if people themselves are not exploring any longer as they once did.
There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.
Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?
Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?
I read this article about 5 days ago and have not stopped thinking about it since. I cannot get the truth that he speaks out of my mind, not necessarily in the direction of literature as he takes it, but instead my own role as a parent and my own experiences of discipleship in my life.
As a parent, I am blessed to live in a community like Wyoming that has sidewalks and parks and places for our children to explore. But when they are ready to take their training wheels off the bikes and do not need to be reminded to stop at the corner before crossing, how will I feel about them just setting off? Does the parental anxiety of the child departing on their own lessen as they do it more and more? My wife and I want our children to have the experiences we each had as children (me growing up in places like those above and her growing up in a house in the country with lots of places to explore), but as Chabon notes, will we let them and will other children be there to go on the journey as well?
Having just re-read The Hobbit and currently rereading The Lord of the Rings this summer for the first time in several years, I long to have my children crossing some bridge in the neighborhood and imagining that their bikes are the horses they ride across the Brandwine Bridge as they flee the Ringwaiths seeking to reclaim the Ring (if you don’t know what I am talking about, please read the books by all means). I long for them to know the joy of exploring and discovering on their own and not simply what I feel they need to know or what a program tells them they need to know.
But what does this article also imply about our faith journeys? We all are called children of God and the reality is that we are all on the journey of discovery as we journey with Christ. The question is whether we are willing to take the jump ourselves and see what we find of God in this marvelous world or whether we wait until a guide tells us what to do. Do we sit on the porch watching as others ride past on their horses bikes in search of the wonders yet-to-be-discovered of the divine one whom we worship and serve?
I think about this in our focus on prayer this summer at PCW. The last several weeks we have been talking about different aspects of prayer and basics of how to enter into those aspects. We have been talking about the times of prayer that we have each “pledged” throughout this summer. But I continue to hear the voices of those who have asked me over the years offering up a question I have asked many times in my journey as well – How do I pray? I wonder whether the answer lies not in “how-to’s” or “4-step processes” but instead in just jumping on our bikes and going. Just jumping into the wild-erness (deliberatley hyphenated) that is our journey with God in this world and into the next. Just jumping into prayer, worship, Scripture, service, outreach, evangelism, and so forth. I wonder whether we would learn more of the things of God if we just jumped in, being willing to get lost a time or two, but more often than not discovering something wondrous about the divine and the reality of God in the world. (and maybe bringing home a few tadpoles and muddy pants too)