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Lost Child

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Folklore and myth are full of lost children—abandoned due to curses, hidden away by fearful parents, exiled by evil kings and cruel stepmothers. Cast on the waters, left on hilltops, hidden in caves, their fate seems murky— until they reappear to either tragedy or triumph. Oedipus learns his true identity only to discover that he has fulfilled the dark prophecy that he was trying to outrun. But Perseus and Dionysos emerge victorious, avenging their rejection. Likewise, the youngest sons or rejected daughters of folktales overcome their outcast status and achieve treasure and acclaim. 

 

It’s not hard to understand the popularity of this theme—who hasn’t felt out of place at times in the family that raised them or fantasized about having a secret destiny? And what parent hasn’t feared the loss of a child? Even today stories of babies switched at birth or reunions with  children given up for adoption rivet our attention.

 

But there’s another reason for the persistence of these stories. For have we not all lost a child, our own child self? The part of ourselves, innocent and earnest, that had to be ceded to the demands of adulthood? Like guilty parents, we don’t necessarily want to be reminded of that loss or look too closely at the experience of children as they too approach it. Our unease is reflected in our tendency to fill children’s entertainment with noise and gaiety and ironic versions of adult realities.

 

But just as the lost children of legend found their way back from obscurity, so too there are ways for one’s inner child to re-emerge. The secret is listening to unlikely voices. In myth these take the form of dreams and oracles that guide the hero on his way. In fairy tales they are small animals or poor old women in the woods who offer timely advice. The modern equivalent might be paying attention to nature, cultivating “beginner’s mind” in meditation, or setting aside cynicism in the practice of magic and ritual.

 

And we can listen to Mr Rogers. Yes really.

 

Like the lowly, helpful creatures of folktale, his was a still small voice calling us back to ourselves. For decades he wrote, directed and appeared in a slow-moving, quiet show aimed at very young children, addressing their interests and fears (of going down the drain or being vacuumed up, of the loudness of adults, of scary and incomprehensible news on television, of death). His slow, soft manner was due to his extreme willingness to recognize and respect the vulnerability of children—and to mirror it in himself. Seen in glimpses, that openness makes us uncomfortable. We want to laugh it away, make fun of it.

 

But accept that manner, listen for a while, and you will fall under his spell. Whether in his children’s show or interviews directed at adults, you’ll see someone behaving with complete earnestness. Stating his feelings of hurt, fear or delight so clearly and yet so gently that we are forced or fooled into accepting them, with all their implications. He was doing the psychic equivalent of walking around naked and inviting us to do the same. Not only did he remind us that we were children once. He made us realize that we still are. And that that state of vulnerability and openness is a key element of our humanity. It demands that we treat ourselves and others with the tenderness and consideration we are moved to give a very young child. It demands that we learn—or re-learn—to love.

 

He didn’t sugarcoat the experience of being a child or of being human. One of his characters wondered in song if he was a "mistake,” since he wasn’t like anyone else. Another character sings to reassure him, but the duet continues with both parts being expressed— we may be told that we are “just fine” as we are but we still wonder if we aren’t meant to be here. If we are lost children who aren’t meant to be found.

 

Like Mr Rogers, I think we can be found, and that we can find ourselves. We have to be willing to drop our defences, to love ourselves, to struggle to love others. To walk in the woods and listen to unexpected voices, to be open to magic and the chance of transformation. Not easy work necessarily, but if we keep it up, we can welcome the lost child home, and accept their treasure of wonder and grace.

 

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This piece was inspired by the Mr Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and the play “You Can Never Go Down the Drain: A Healing Ritual for Adults,” by John Jaboe and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret.

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 
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