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Sun, Oct. 13

Barnes: When I was a child, I spoke ...

When we were kids, reality and imagination were often blurred.

In the first grade, I recall traveling to Holland. I loved ice skating, ice skates, wooden shoes, and especially the tulips that bloomed year round.

The next year I went to Switzerland. I was enchanted by the tall, snow-covered mountains and small villages where families with children were waiting to welcome me.

A year or two later, I recall traveling throughout Europe, although our teacher skipped the tour of Paris. I recall her smiling at us and saying that we weren’t ready for Paris yet. None of us understood what she meant, but we knew better than to question her judgment.

For some reason, we never read about Germany, Japan, or Russia. I understand why now — it was the 1930s after all — and those were countries our teachers decided not to have us visit.

Of course, these early travels were all imagined, but no less exciting, I was sure, than the real thing. Little boys — and I was told, little girls — have wonderfully creative imaginations. The best thing about them is that they were so real. I went to every land I read about.

What a fascinating discovery for a child to make!

And the best part is that this incredible association of books and imagination continues. The early lessons became indelibly imprinted on my mind and spirit. Every book provokes thoughts that activates creative introspection. Once enjoined, pleasure, satisfaction and even excitement are soon realized. There is something magical about spending time in flight uninterrupted by reality.

While the boy’s initial trip to Europe had the serendipitous advantage of fresh discovery — a luscious introduction to a place that can never really look that exciting again — what I have that he didn’t, is experience. I see with an expanded imagination, then can interpret, relate, understand and put in a context that only age permits.

While the boy saw in each adventure simple beauty, I see through my imagination a more complex world; while he saw incandescent dreams, I dream about creating realities unknown to his restricted world; while he saw innocence and uncontrived joy, I see needs and dream ways of resolving them; while his imagination soared into sparkling kingdoms where play was continuously entertaining, I see a playful mind as a primary way of maintaining sanity.

But I owe that young boy. He created the kind of imagination that rebels against despair and keeps self-destructive tendencies in check. He shrewdly developed a perspective rooted in a healthy combination of reality and fantasy that understood there was a dividing line. He knew when he lived in one and what it meant to travel and return within the other.

So today, because of him, my imagination takes wing when I wish and returns safely to ground when I need it to.

He gave me the most precious gift possible. Thank goodness I am able to use it with the grace of maturity.

May you be as fortunate!

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