“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. . . . When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children.
“Mrs. Lacy, are all dinosaurs extinct?”
Before I had the chance to answer, another student piped up: “Not all of them! Some still exist.”
I love questions like these.
“Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster?” I ask them.
They nod their heads excitedly.
“Does it really exist?” “Is that a dinosaur?” “You mean it’s real?”
One of my students, the comedian who loves soccer and guitar and thinks he’s pretty cool, raises his hand.
“Well, if we believe that it is really a dinosaur and that it really exists, and then one day find out that it’s not, there won’t be any harm in believing it.”
Wise words, friend.
As I grow older, I seek to become more like a child.
I see it in my fourth grade students: a hunger to believe. They want to believe that dragons are real, that Nessie the Monster might someday make an appearance, and that they, too, can be a professional athlete. These are just a taste of a greater human desire. We want to believe that good always triumphs, that beauty exists in this world, and that our lives are filled with meaning and inherent value.
Mrs. Lacy tells her students that the Loch Ness Monster is real because they need to believe in something fantastic. They need to believe that there is a reality unseen by the human eye. But I don’t just tell my kids that Nessie exists because they need to hear it. I tell them because I believe that she is real. At age twenty-three, I need that dinosaur in a Scottish lake just as much as these precious ten year olds need her. There is no harm in believing that this monster is real. In fact, there is everything to gain.
“It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called to believe what to many is impossible. Instead of rejoicing in this glorious ‘impossible’ which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his mighty actions comprehensible to our finite minds.” (Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water)