Remember when you were little? With very little effort, you could pretend you were anyone, and you could do anything. From playing ‘house’ to adventuring through the jungle, all it took was an idea, and a sense of wonder. Even if you were all alone, you could pretend to be an entire group of different people, and they could interact within your imagination.
When we first become aware of the world around us, it is a place of wonder, mystery and endless possibilities. If we are fortunate enough to grow in a home filled with love and support, we soon develop a curiosity about all the things that we don’t know yet, and a desire to experience our dreams. As we grow, we discover that we have within us the power to create any world we want to play in, and in our world, we can be anything or anyone we wish.
I can still remember being on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, and having to crawl along the Jeffries tube on my way to the engine room, as the Klingon Bird-Of-Prey was attacking. Okay, so I was just a child who watched Star Trek too much, playing under the kitchen chairs, but in my mind I was a proud member of Star Fleet… unless I decided to be a Romulan spy. The point is, it was MY world, and I had fun playing in it.
The Keys That Unlock Our Imagination
There’s a simple reason little kids love to play with toys. They give children a way to make their worlds of make-believe real enough to touch. With a baby doll, a child who is pretending to be a parent has something tangible to hold, to touch and to love. With a truck in hand, a little one can not only pretend they are driving around, they can make tracks in the dirt and prove their world is really just a hidden part of ours.
Telling stories offers us another way to share our imagination with the world. Those of us lucky enough to have been read to at a very young age, know full well that a good story comes alive in our minds, and with children, those stories may just come alive the next day as well, while they play. This is the driving force behind the writer’s passion for his craft.
When children first start to socialize with others, they can unlock a magical world where they actually share an imaginary universe. With the exception of love, there is no force stronger than that of two children who have created a world of pure make-believe. Their dreams, hopes, and even fears, become real, and these special worlds of wonder will forever be a part of them, even after they forget to remember them.
Sadly, somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12, we learn to stifle our imaginations. Society is partly to blame for this … we find a 7 year old playing dress up to be cute, but if a 14 year old does it, we assume they are trying to grow up too fast. And if an adult does it, it better be Halloween, or we call the men with the white coats.
In truth, we do have to put aside some of our fantasies to become healthy and responsible adults. Learning to separate our make-believe worlds from reality is part of growing up, and the inability to do this can become a form of mental illness. Unfortunately, we all still have a need to play, even those poor souls who completely lose their ability to pretend. True artists, from painters to authors, retain this ability, and use it to their advantage.
Others satisfy this basic human need in a number of ways, from books to video games, and from sports to drugs. In the end, whether constructive or destructive, these are all just ways to escape into the world of our imaginations once again, and rediscover our lost sense of wonder.
The world will always be a special and magical place to children. The ability to play make-believe is a gift that we are all born with, and one that every child should have the opportunity to experience for as long as possible.
So the next time you have the chance to have tea with a child, or become the moat monster at the local playground, jump in with your whole heart. Maybe you’ll discover that your imagination still works, and that child still lives inside you.
Dusty Grein is Creative Director and Managing Editor for Rhetoric Askew.He is also a novelist, poet and regular writer for the Society of Classical Poets website. Some of his messages can also be found on his blog, From Grandpa’s Heart…