Posted on: April 30, 2020 Posted by: vudfc Comments: 0

This post is part of a series about creating and testing rules to live by. Click here to head to the first post and see the list of “rules.”

Don’t devalue a stuffed animal without first filling it with imagination.

“All grown-ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I had forgotten my bunk bed and all its inhabitants with it. A household of women could be a lonely place for a boy, and perhaps this was the psychological root of the personalities and accompanying voices emanating from the horde of stuffed animals who resided in my bunk bed? Or maybe this is a thing most children do? Fill their possessions with personhood, their tiny child bodies carrying about massive imaginations which can’t help but spill forth.

My own deluge saw the animals in favor—Teddy Ruxpin (bear), Max (monster), Dennis (dinosaur), Donnie (turtle) etc.—promoted to the top bunk, while those in the doghouse, like Mitch the Cabbage Patch Kid, were forced to second-tier status in the bottom bunk. Together these stuffed minions and I would talk and travel and fight unseen foes and sing heard songs. Seconds stacked to minutes, minutes to hours, and the days of youthful wonder gave way to the practical realism of adulthood. A place where stuffed animals were the first junk to donate.

And, having forgotten, this is the task I set myself to in my son’s playroom. I was throwing “stuffies” into a box. He watched on confused. While rummaging through the closet for more discard-worthy items, I heard a voice. It was the voice of my son, but it was the whisper of the past too, for my son had taken from the box a stuffed dog and was feigning a conversation with it. My son would ask a question of sorts and the dog would utter some high-pitched nonsense, impossible to understand. And impossible not to.

The memories of youth flooded in: a time when stuffed animals weren’t viewed for their utility, but for their potential, for their personalities, for their wonder and whimsy.

I had remembered.

These moments happen with young children. They force open the door to a long forgotten basement within the being of their parents. But beyond revealing the miracle of imagination, these instants remind one of potential. Of hope. Of what might be and how that may very well stretch beyond what one can merely see.

It happens all the time—the small kid is cut from the team; the innovator, mocked; the idealistic start-up, scoffed. And then something unexpected happens. Through the fires of rejection these misfits emerge as MVPs, revolutionaries, successful businesses. What happens is the refining process of potential being realized, of some belief being processed and churned into reality; it is a father not perceiving what a two-year-old can’t miss.

And of course, it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes junk is junk. Sometimes a kid is cut and goes another route, the innovator was actually just a hapless non-conformist, the business bankrupt in both fiscal and conceptual terms. The stuffed animal thrown in the rubbish.

But isn’t it worth taking a look? Kicking the tires? Giving it a shot? Or, to stick with our analogy, seeing if the animal has a voice?

Another memory comes skating in—the time my father and I paid $2 to see The Mighty Ducks. Filled with motivation and dollar-store candy, I skipped from the theater, quacking all the way to the car. On the way home I said, “That’ll probably win some awards, huh?”

I didn’t know a thing about awards. I was just trying to talk like I knew adults did about such matters.

“No!” my dad chided. “It was bloody terrible.”

He was right, of course. The Mighty Ducks is no Welles or Scorsese.

But he was also very much wrong.

Movies aren’t made to win awards—or shouldn’t be. That is a byproduct. If our only measure for success or failure is the utilitarian metric points, we’ll miss more than we know. We’ll miss kindling the belief in young hearts. We’ll miss hearing voices—all of them, even made up ones. We’ll invest shrewdly, but not wisely. We’ll distance ourselves from anything with the hint of mystical, bowing sacrosanct at the sturdy altar of materialism.

Life is more than utility. There is more to it than achievement. And purpose can lay dormant and hidden, a thing to be called to life, even by the very mouth of babes.

All those years ago, in the top bunk with my “friends,” I was away from the world. The cynicism, the morbidity of doubt, the narrowness that life becomes. I was caught up in adventures that rendered the world wide and beyond.

I was a child breathing life into the lifeless.

And now, if I allow it, my own child is breathing life into me. Into the realization that the world is not a rigid, mean thing—or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. It can be Pan in flight, a jaunt through Narnia. It can be belief and love and hope and encouragement. It can be a bunk far far away and a tender, high-pitched voice filling the night.

Don’t devalue a stuffed animal without first filling it with imagination.

(Quick Virus Application (QVA-19) – These are days offering introspection–if we’ll be wise and take them up on the offer. But that awareness doesn’t go inward forever. It rebounds. We search for some hidden truth within, but upon finding some long-forgotten treasure we turn outward. With a generosity of spirit and a renewed perspective, we assess the things around us. The neglected vestiges of creativity; the reservoirs of hope; the oases of peace. We may not find these things in stuffed animals. Perhaps they are in the woods? In the rigors and gratifications of gardening? In putting our hands on things, and setting our minds at the task of building. Improving. Making. Potential abounds. We should bestir it to life.)

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