“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
It happened almost every Sunday night. My parents and I would return home from the evening service at church, open the door, and be met by a burst of heat. The temperature in the house was at least eighty degrees. My dad would be barking, “Elizabeth…” before he even reached the den, where my grandmother, Amma, sat in her chair innocently knitting.
At 83-years-old, Amma was constantly cold. In fact, she wore long johns under her clothes year-round, and she always wore a turban-style cap when she was inside or a hat when she went out—a turban for warmth; a hat for style. Each week my dad would firmly instruct her to leave the thermostat alone, and each week we’d return home to the assault of heat.
My exasperated dad would walk past her to return the thermostat to its usual 72 degree setting while she continued to knit. However, if you looked at her face closely, you could see the whisper of a mischievous grin. This ongoing game was one of many things that gave Amma delight.
Although Amma possessed wisdom and depth cultivated over eight decades of life, she also had the remarkable characteristic of innocence—not naïve or oblivious, but present, perceptive, and playful.
I can picture her sitting on her wooden stool in the kitchen, relishing M&M cookies, her favorite, with a glass of cold milk. She stares out the picture window that looks onto the neighbors’ pasture. When their horse ambles up the fence to eat the supper scraps that my mom has tossed out, Amma watches him and smiles.
From time to time her gaze lands on the window itself, and her look changes to one of intensity. She grasps the fly swatter laying to her right and begins to walk toward the window. Since she uses a walker, her approach is so slow I think there is no way she will reach the fly in time, but with a “twap” she releases the swatter and finds her target with incredible accuracy. She pivots to return to the stool with a look of smug satisfaction on her aged face.
The late Bernard De Koven, a game designer and “fun theorist,” believed that “the innocence of childhood is never lost. It just takes a while to come back.” He explained, “We are at last old enough to receive the gifts of things, to delight in the delight of things given. Because innocence returns us to the surprise, the gift of the moment.”
“It just takes a while to come back…”
How exactly does this happen? Because I know there’s more to it than simply waking up one day to discover that innocence has returned like sparrows in the spring. I’ve seen too many “grown-ups” who have instead become irritated, jaded, or disheartened; in fact, I can feel this impulse already. My newly empty nest feels vacuous; the news cycle is maddening; and the discourse surrounding the upcoming election seems intolerant and uncivilized.
The pull toward cynicism and despair feels oh-so-strong, so I must choose to turn in a different direction. I’m turning toward hope.
In doing so, I’m choosing to hope that innocence will return.
Once upon a time innocence looked like the ability to be present in the moment; to live with wonder; to notice the small things; to engage with openness and curiosity; to value play; to make time for adventure; to forgive others (and to forgive myself); to let things go; to practice gratitude; and to have faith in the goodness of God. Perhaps it still looks like this today.
In this simple act of remembering, I can feel the pull toward cynicism and despair lessen as my heart swells with expectancy and hope.
My grandmother lived to be 92 years old, and she never stopped teasing my father, savoring her cookies, and living an observant and engaged life. In the summertime, she loved to sit in the sunshine to break beans with my mom. Each Christmas she would open the gifts in her stocking with utter delight. And every day she faithfully read her Bible, scribbling shaky observations in the margins. In each of these acts, and a thousand others, I see a world-worn woman living with remarkable innocence.
One night a friend who was staying at my parents’ house heard Amma stirring around three in the morning. He cracked his bedroom door, just to check on her, and saw her walking down the hallway in her long johns and white turban. Her days and nights must have been turned around, but as she walked, she was joyfully singing,
“Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Oh, what a beautiful day!
I’ve got a beautiful feeling
Everything’s going my way.”
In this sweet and winsome scene, I find all the encouragement I need to continue turning toward hope and to embrace innocence when it comes calling.
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Susan and Tim, her husband of 26 years, are adapting to an empty nest since both of their sons are now away attending college.nbsp