Sunday, October 29, 2006

Inestimable Gift

Join in with me while Henry Ward Beecher reminices about boyhood adventures --

“On the blessed day above mentioned, a bare-footed boy might have been seen on a June afternoon, with his alder-pole on his shoulder, tripping through the meadow where dandelions and wild geraniums were in bloom, and steering for the old sawmill. As soon as the meadow was crossed, the fence scaled and a descent begun, all familiar objects were gone, and the overpowering consciousness of being alone set one’s imagination into a dance of fear.
Could we find our way back?
What if a big bull should come out of those bushes?
What if a great big man should come along and carry us off?
To a six-year old boy these were very serious matters, and nothing could have so well tested the eagerness or our purpose as perseverance under these soul-bewildering suggestions; for realities in after-life are seldom so impressive as imaginations in early life. A child’s fears are cruel. They are to him the signs of absolute realities, and he is quite unable to reason on them and is helpless to repel or to endure them. The fears of our childhood constitute a chapter in mental philosophy.
But, no sooner did we see the sparkle of the water than our souls grew calm again and happy.”

When I first read this I got caught up in the scene described and it took me back to when I was a boy living in a rural agricultural area. I spent many a day hiking off to where the lands were uncharted. Many a time to a place I had been once, or someone had told me about, and the way was uncertain. I experienced the fear he describes about being lost or the worry a big dog might be stumbled on to or a big man that could carry us off.
But as I re-read this story I was taken by a different aspect of it; The line,
“for realities in after-life are seldom so impressive as imaginations in early life. A child’s fears are cruel.”
A sadness came over me as the truth of that statement sunk in. I began to think of a child with these “impressive imaginations in early life” that is caught in the break-up of a family by divorce, and how big the fears are in a young child. How a “child’s fears are cruel.” Without hope, overwhelming and reaching deep within to a place where there just is no understanding. I thought of my sons and the desperation they must have felt when their mother and I divorced. I then thought of all the children that face truly fearful circumstances and I felt that fearful imagination.
To those who have held their marriages together in this ‘throw away’ culture, my hats off to you. I doubt you realize the inestimable gift you have given your children.

1 comment:

Debby Applegate said...

I was directed to your blog by a "google alert" for Henry Ward Beecher & was delighted to run across this anecdote. I've just published a new biography of Beecher and was very disappointed to have to leave out that boyhood story -- and so many other of equal charm. I could have written several hundred more pages if I'd included all Beecher's wonderfully incisive stories and thoughts. Thanks so much for unearthing it and making it available to readers. Altogher, you've a very enjoyable blog & I'm glad to have stumbled on it.

Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher.