I find myself at the age of 35, reflecting deeply on childhood. Is this a thing? To reflect, to revisit and mull on the ebbs and flows, the waxing and waning, through one’s ages? The sense of freedom and wild abandon in early childhood, though at times not without its own traumas… The trials and tribulations, but with them of first loves, with adolescence… And marvelling at the wondrous full-bodied and heady sense of invincibility and entitlement in early twenties spent at college for those of us among the few fortunate, when it felt there was all the possibility in the world…? Maybe it’s just me, being revisited by the Ghost of Once Upon’s.
I was nothing if not a precocious child. I can still vividly recall my dear grandfather and ‘Papa’, perhaps glimpsing something of the spiritual in me (for he was always a hopeful man), tugging on the hem of my ‘Sunday best’ in church to single out the most pious, blue-eyed altar boy. He bent down and whispered that when I was all grown up I might serve little Jonathan, his pint-sized and angel-faced ‘pontifying’ prediction, and The Cloth as nun. Feeling I had been sorely demoted, I turned upwards to face him, wide-eyed in horror and frankly appalled. Madam I was, I made quick work then and there of assuring my Papa in hushed tones, and doing little to hide my righteous indignation, that I would be Pope if anything! I still tease him, Alzheimer’s and all, at the ripened age of 84, when he tut-tuts at how the mortal me has strayed in my nicotine addiction and other such very ‘literary’ habits, as I like to call them. Even Jesus had a flair for the theatrical and bacchanalian, I goad the poor old man, with a wink and a puff.
But oh how I often long for those simpler days, when stubborn to a fault, I could simply disappear into the tops of the nearest climbing tree, or into the cool comforts of my wardrobe with my glow-in-the-dark Mother Mary or Smurfette figurine, praying for the patience I would need to suffer fools, adult or child alike. Or better yet, into the far recesses like that other little troublesome Mary of Secret Gardens, into my own patch of green paradise where I could so effortlessly remove myself from sight, to be left unfettered to play and daydream amongst all of God’s littler, less intrusive creatures.
In my many reflections as I find myself this last week on something of a retreat with my mother and her dearest long-standing friend, Penelope, that little ol’ precocious me perhaps had even more an enviable freedom to her, and that was the freedom to be larger than life in all her many indulgences and hopes and fairy-fuelled wishes. And how often do we as, as womxn, shrink ourselves to fit the roles that become learned and accumulate, almost imperceptibly at first, that we do not even notice the measured tightening of breath, the nervous conditions and whisperings of self-doubt that encroach upon the truth that should have defied them all: We are immense!
I imagined I would be many things once upon what now feels like a lifetime ago.
Once, when words were nothing but glorious conjurings on a page brought to life by my Papa’s calm and steady voice, I looked upon the librarian in awe, protector of the realm of knowledge with quick ready fingers for a universe of index cards and matching spines. I longed to be gatekeeper, strong and steadfast like her one day. From her kingdom, and with their treasures, I could be anything. I was James in his Giant Peach conquering vast oceans with companions courageous and true, bound by love and friendship. I was Jonathan that mystical seagull, transcending realms, guiding disciples into the unknown where speed barriers were nothing but a trifling of the mind at will. I was the Little Prince taming foxes in foreign lands and never once afraid to be curious or to speak my mind. I cared not I was a girl and that perhaps these things were not for me, or ever considered that these freedoms could be denied me. They were my birthright as I saw fit.
So do not, my dear readers, if I may borrow from Bronte. Do Not.
Do not go gently.
Do not suffer those who seek to eclipse you.
Do not entertain those who seek to lay claim to your soul as if it were something to possess.
Do not find yourself in a padded cell of someone else’s contrition.
And from here and forever after, take heart. Kindle joy. And take flight.