In a long forgotten movie, Paternity, Burt Reynolds plays a childless bachelor who wants a child. He and the prospective mother of his child, Beverly D'Angelo, sit in a park watching a young boy ride his bicycle atop a 5-foot-high brick wall.
"Do you know why he doesn't fall?" Reynold's character asks. "Because nobody has taught him about gravity. Someday, a teacher will tell him about gravity, and the next time he tries to ride his bike like that, he will fall. I want to be there when my son learns about gravity."
For some reason, this line from this mediocre 80's comedy stuck with me. It is funny how such things stick in one's head. I have been thinking of late at what point is it that we lose our child-like wonder? If you watch little kids, you quickly realize something: all of them believe they can and all of them believe in magic.
For my daughter growing up, her dolls were real people to her. One has become an important part of the family. When he was three or so, I would awaken to my son sitting on my chest every Saturday announcing, "Thundercats, Dad. Thundercats!" They were so much more than just a cartoon in his head. Every child believes he can sing. Every child believes she can dance. Every child writes his or her own musical opus. Every child stars in a self-made play or magic show. It is the belief and is more than imagination. It is the magic of which Merlin would be envious.
And at some point it is gone. Perhaps it is when they learn the rules or the reality that there really is gravity. Perhaps it is a result of those awkward years of puberty when kids become self-conscious and when "going out" with someone involves more than a checked box on a note and sitting with him or her at lunch. The kids that once went out for every play and played badly and loudly in the band, suddenly don't tryout for the play or quit the choir. Still, even at that point the theatre, the band, the choir, the flag team, the football team, the volleyball team...all become a place to belong.
For me, I dreamed that I was a good singer. My sister had even wanted me to sing at her wedding, but that was not to be. Reality hit. A friend of hers and her husband to be was asked to sing instead. Then I was moved from the school choir. It wasn't because I couldn't sing but because there were only two boys who had signed up for the choir. The logic was to turn the choir into a girl's glee group. Secretly, I'd wanted to sing, but I understood the reality of what needed to be done. A few years later, I tried my hand at a church choir. I hated it. It was obvious that the choir director thought it was too late for me to learn to sing. I went to rehearsal twice and quit. The magic was gone. I learned about gravity.
But still, I found my magic. I found it on the stage. I was a mediocre athlete and my school only had two after school productions: the junior class play and the senior class play. We didn't have theatre classes, but I was involved in every possible production I could be in and I had the band. It was in college that I found the theatre. It was a gift. It was magic. It was a place to belong.
Magic for some stops. They suddenly see the world as a dangerous place. They live in fear of magic. They have not just learned about gravity, but have allowed it to become a heavy force grinding them to the earth's surface. They live in fear of the government they elected. They live in fear of losing things like imaginary rights that they never had. Magic is gone. They will never sing with joy, even if it is only when they are alone. I wonder how it is that some never seem to find that magic again.
When do we learn about gravity? I was fortunate because I had people who were there when I learned and helped me defy gravity. I hope you too still see some magic some place, even if it is with that child who drags you onto the couch and makes you watch her newest musical extravaganza using sheets and a cardboard box.