As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, J. M. Barrie’s fictional creation of Neverland and his story of Peter Pan has fascinated me since childhood. Between the time when my sister Nadja died (previous post here) and the birth of my younger sister Tamara (previous post here), our family resembled the Darlings (except I was second, fictional Wendy Darling had been born first). In our case, my family included older son Eric, daughter (me) and younger son Kevin. We slept upstairs in slant-ceilinged little rooms away from our parents’ space.
The sudden appearance at the windowsill of a boy who could fly and a fairy “no longer than your hand, but still growing” would have been an exciting scenario for the three of us! Becoming friends with a boy who’d lost his shadow might have puzzled us at first, but we’d have figured it out quickly enough.
Though I’d never have counted myself with the Lost Boys of Never-Neverland, in my younger years I well remember times when I wished fervently that I’d never grow up. The press of adult decisions and responsibilities seemed overwhelming and scary. I knew once I’d completely traversed the threshold of adulthood, my decisions were my own … for better or worse. Tell me that’s not sobering!
Over my lifetime, I’ve realized how significant imagination is to the proper formation of our adult personalities. There’s a terrific book by Professor Anthony Esolen called Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. Whether read by a parent of small children or an older parent (like me), this book provides helpful insight about imagination. Another book, Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian, is subtitled How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination. An older book (1998), this one is well worth close study and reflection.
While it’s fiction, the tale of Peter Pan also provides excellent insight, not just about imagination but about the uncertain path to growing up. Barrie’s story probes the concept of Neverland (in fiction but also in a child’s imagination). The mysterious island kingdom encompasses both a dream aspect as well as the no-boundaries province of a child’s mind. When asked (in chapter 3) for the island’s location, Pan responds vaguely: “second to the right, and straight on till morning.” This purposeful ambiguity doesn’t really resolve … except in Disney movies. In the Barrie book, the end is natural and hideously bittersweet.
I am blessed my parents nurtured my imagination, but I’m also blessed that when childhood was complete, I understood the momentous need to grow up. In large part, I think I learned the lesson of growing up from the books I read. So it is in the poem below. This sonnet delves into the saga of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys, the wonder of childhood experiences that help us to transition into grown-ups. I borrowed the title from Barrie’s description. As delightful as imagination is, morning will – yes, must – come.