Reversing A Failure of Imagination

When you’re young, it’s easy to imagine. The way life could be. What you could become. How the world might change. 

It all seems possible.

My neighbor and I used to pretend we were Spy Kids (a terrible, but great ‘90s movie). We had these backpacks filled with potions (his mom’s moisturizers) and prank gifts (like the peanut jar and a fart machine). We marked an intricate path in the woods between our houses using red duct tape, in case for some reason, the bad guys and gals came and we couldn’t just walk across the street to each other’s houses. 

At some point, we stopped doing stuff like that. We grew up, whatever that means. I know that I ‘got serious’ about sports and school, about fitting into my life and to the world around me. I stopped acting. I stopped reading fiction. I stopped following my own curiosities. 

I can’t pinpoint the exact time; I only have a general recollection of moments that led to my hardening. I’ve seen it happen in other kids since. A series of events suck the ease of life away and their eyes seem to change. 

Soon, this is made worse by the acute stresses of growing up. Building an identity. Finding and keeping friends. Making your parents proud. Getting into the right colleges. Paying bills. Landing a job. Taking care of business.

It becomes almost impossible to reconnect with the kids we once were.

Yet, you and I both know, buried in there somewhere - there is still a Spy Kid. A fourth grader who knows the way life could be, what you could become, and how the world might change as a result. There’s a remnant of hope left over underneath the cynicism that everything really is possible. 

When you get close enough to those memories, you can see yourself. You remember what it was like before you lost your innocence, before you became aware that you should be afraid, that you should hedge against failure. 

Back when life was easy and your ego wasn’t an obstacle.

You begin to realize that there’s a purity that’s still in you that you dance around. An innocence that you’ve come to despise because its left you feeling vulnerable. A subtle curiosity that is begging to be discovered again.

So you make it a point to start reading fiction again, to start creating things, to finger paint on the weekends, to color on the walls. You make it a point to get down to the eye level of your fourth grade self, start viewing the world through her eyes. 

You check to make sure your fart machine still has working batteries.

You put on your dope Spy Kid backpack with imaginary rocket boosters.

You find the red tape (duct, not bureaucratic).

And you dive back in…

To the calm clarity that anything is possible.

Kate Ward