Imagine a child who has never lain back in the grass just to feel thin leaves whisper against his earlobe, never watched cloudplay to find a story told for him alone, never learned to hear the separate song of robin, sparrow, chickadee. How can he hear the separate song of loneliness, sung by the owl-eyed little girl, the skinny immigrant with his beautiful eyelashes, the old lady liver-spotted with near 100 years of secrets, stories, songs?
How can a poverty of imagination purchase empathy?
Imagine a child who has never lain on the bedroom floor with Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Hardy Boys, never plucked out a tune on unfamiliar instruments, never learned to look for shooting star.
How can he dream, who never dreams?
How can he plan for tomorrow, who lives in the never-quiet racket of today?
How can a poverty of thought purchase purpose?
Imagine a child nourished on binge-watching, blinking neon games, portable noise. There is no end to thumping bass and chime of inbox, the unceasing prattle of friends (no more waiting, even, for a phone call).
There is no waiting, period. There is no delayed gratification, no longing, no patience needed. And we are surprised when impatience bears its ugly fruit.
Where do they come from, the children with their guns? Where is this carnage born? Is it a failure of legislation? Of health care? Of education? Of parenting?
Or is it simply that we have forgotten how to sit, quiet? It takes quiet to see—are you surprised? Sit in a nickel arcade and try to see your neighbor’s heart, try to see your own.
We have forgotten how to see what others see, forgotten how to slip into their shoes.
We have forgotten how to imagine, how to dream.
We have forgotten how to listen, how to wait.
We are always loud, forever moving. Why then are we surprised when there is no peace? We are paying for the sins of omission.
Without quiet, there is no thought.
Without thought, there is no thoughtfulness.
Without thoughtfulness, there is no empathy.
Without empathy, there is no remorse.
Without imagination, there is no vision.
Without vision, there is no reason for hope.
Without hope, there is no reason to live.
With nothing to lose, there are no inhibitions.
We sow the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
― Wendell Berry