How Can I Rediscover the Magic of Childhood?

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Your alarm clock rings at seven in the morning. You wake up. Yawn. Stretch. Groan. Great, you think. Another day. You go outside to grab the newspaper, wrapping a robe tight around your waist to block the cold, grumbling about work and the weather. You look up, ready to go back inside, and that’s when you spy a cluster of neighborhood children across the street, running, jumping and shouting like manic chimpanzees.

First you think, why aren’t they in school? Then you remember it’s the middle of July. When did I stop looking forward to the summer, you wonder. You ponder this mystery for a while, and when the answer comes, you sigh in resignation. It’s when I left childhood behind, you realize. It’s when I grew up.

Why is our adult vision constrained to such a narrow field of view, composed only of the ordinary, the boring and the mundane? Children, by contrast, seem capable of perceiving so much more.

In fact, it appears that our kids interact daily with a world unseen, a parallel universe whose existence is always just out of reach to the rest of us, and we secretly (or not so secretly) envy them.

You rightly wonder, “what magic power do children have that I don’t?”

Children look at the world with fresh eyes.

To a child, everything is new. They haven’t had time to articulate the familiar. They haven’t yet derived the abstract theoretical models that make the world predictable. To a child, shadows, reflections and moonbeams are magic, entities without explanation, realities which are to be accepted at face value.

Children don’t know that the wind is composed of loosely coupled molecules, driven about by pressure and momentum. They only feel the cool restorative touch of its invisible caress. Children don’t know that a rainbow is the product of a spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies refracted at different angles through a prism. They only perceive an inexplicable burst of multi-colored light in the aftermath of a storm.

This simple humble acceptance of the world as it is inspires wonder and stimulates the imagination.

Children are faced with a universe saturated in magic. They marvel and conclude that anything is possible.

If birds and planes can fly, why can’t people? If animals, people and other more exotic forms of life can exist, why can’t fairies, dragons and monsters?

Because anything is possible, the world of reality and the world of fantasy are inextricably linked; one connects directly to the other. Through humble awe and wonder, a child is issued a passport to the world of the imagination. Children pass back and forth between the two worlds so fluidly that unless we’re paying close attention, we might not even realize they’re gone.

We adults, on the other hand, take our limited knowledge of the world for granted.

We assume that things will always work the way they do because they always have. Our vision narrows, and anything that doesn’t fit into our empirical model of the universe becomes impossible.

Birds and planes can fly, but not people. Animals exist, but never monsters. There are people, but no fairies, orcs or gnomes.

One by one, the possibilities dwindle. Our vision of the world continues to constrict until we become stodgy old men, cynical and philosophically nearsighted; before we know what’s happened, the world of fantasy has evaporated. We experience sadness in the wake of its disappearance, but we have no idea where to find it again. Instead, we look on as our children pass back and forth between the worlds, and we spend the rest of our lives lamenting the loss of our imagination, convinced that it’s an inescapable consequence of growing up.

But adulthood done properly is actually childhood fulfilled.

What we need is not to surrender what we know of the world in favor of ignorance, but to surrender our skeptical attitude in favor of simple awe and wonder. We adults lose access to the world of fantasy not because we articulate a more complete model of the universe, but because in doing so we often refuse to believe in anything beyond it. We believe that all we know is all there is, and as a result we lose our sense of mystery and wonder.

We must look beyond the surface, so that we can once again perceive the world through a fresh pair of eyes. We understand that a rainbow is the product of light of different frequencies refracted at different angles through a prism. Instead of saying that’s just the way things are and shrugging it off as a solved problem, we might instead dig into the mystery a bit further.

Why does light of different frequences refract at different angles? And what, for that matter, is light? Suddenly, we discover that there’s a whole new set of mysteries, waiting to be explored. We’re plunged into a winding rabbit hole that takes us deep into electromagnetism and the other fundamental forces of nature, things which simply exist for reasons that we don’t yet understand.

Once again, everything is new, and we find that we can use our imaginations once more. If electromagnetism can exist, along with gravity and the strong and the weak nuclear forces, why not other fundamental forces of nature that we haven’t yet discovered?1

The reason why we search for what we lost in childhood is that we’re still children.

We might have bigger bodies, and we might know more about the world and how it works than we did in our nascent existence. But inside, we’re still that five-year-old kid we thought we left behind so many years ago. This is good news, because it means that what we thought we lost when we grew up was really never lost at all! Awe and wonder are accessible to everyone, children and adults alike. We might have learned some bad habits in our old age, but it’s never too late to change our attitude.

Adopt a new outlook, and the magic you thought you’d lost what seems a lifetime ago will return in spades.


Footnotes

1. When I first started studying Math and Physics in 2006 (God, I’m old), I dreamed up a fifth fundamental force of nature that governed interactions between objects at a distance. I came up with a mathematical model to define its properties, then plugged it into real physics to discover how it would behave if it were real. I spent five years combing through the math and making sure everything was consistent, and when I was done I had a new realistic magic system ready to use in a new fantasy series. Now that’s imagination!

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Author: Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

34 thoughts on “How Can I Rediscover the Magic of Childhood?”

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing – and so interesting too! Your thoughts pose more questions in me than they answer. I have high functioning autism and, reading this, it seems that I sit between an adult and a child. In some senses I am very adult, in that I believe very strongly in facts and most fantasy seems pathetic to me. I have a rigidity and a very strongly anchored paradigm which others don’t seem to have and it sometimes hampers my life.

    In other senses though, I am more like a child still. Every day I see things that shock me into wonder and awe, because everyday things are different. For instance, I walk past the same tree every day when I walk my dog but, although I know it’s classified as the same tree, it looks different to me every day. The wind never blows it’s branches in exactly the same pattern and the sun never catches the leaves in exactly the same way. Many times I am blown away by the beauty of it as it moves and light cascades through it. It seems to me like a different tree every day which seems to resonate with what you say about seeing with ‘new eyes’.
    I wonder if, for autistic people, there is so much wonder and so much awe at things that we retreat into rigid rules-based thinking as a way of trying to get hold of the world which is always too much?
    I can’t really say how this might relate to people who don’t have autism because I have never been one but I wonder if autism can give insight into that?
    Anyway thanks for shring your writing – it’s really interesting.

    1. Jofox2108,

      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment.

      I’m not autistic, but what you describe sounds very similar to myself. I find myself always reexamining the same things over and over again, finding something new in them each time. That is one of the most beautiful things about this life, that the old is always made new, that everyday things are not really boring or mundane at all, but filled with wonders just beneath their ordinary surfaces. It sounds like your autism is quite a blessing 🙂

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the blog and took the time to tell me how it made you feel. I hope I’ll get to read more of your comments in the future.

      1. It’s good to feel similar to someone else. In the film ‘Shadowlands’ about the life of C S Lewis, one of his students says ‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ I wonder if this is what he means? 🙂
        On the day I was diagnosed with autism they asked me how I felt and I told them I felt ‘a bit broken’ so they explained to me that high functioning autism means that you’re worse at some things which other people find easy, but that you also have lots of strengths, and that knowing this about yourself helps you focus and build on those strengths. Perhaps this way of seeing the way the details of everything change so much is one of those strengths.
        I think for people who have more severe autism it is a condition which is very difficult, for the person who has it and for those who love him or her.
        Thanks for your kind reply! 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Natalee Embry and commented:
    I particularly loved this paragraph:
    What we need is not to surrender what we know of the world in favor of ignorance, but to surrender our skeptical attitude in favor of simple awe and wonder. We adults lose access to the world of fantasy not because we articulate a more complete model of the universe, but because in doing so we often refuse to believe in anything beyond it. We believe that all we know is all there is, and as a result we lose our sense of mystery and wonder.

  3. Amazing read. I remember when I taught, I had this 8th grade class, and I used to put stars on their papers if the work was good. At first they laughed and said I was treating them like they were five years old. I just kept doing it, and after awhile, they began to look to see if they got one. I just smiled to myself. The quality of their work got better in the pursuit of one. Thank you for the reminder that we need to go back sometimes, and just be, with nothing after that. Just be.

    1. That’s awesome. When I was in third grade, my grandma gave me a bunch of coloring and workbooks because she used to be a teacher, and I thought to myself, “I don’t want these. They’re for babies.” But then when I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Ms. Ito, gave us for Christmas one of the workbooks my grandma had given me the year before, and all of my classmates were excited about it. In that moment, I decided it would be okay for me to enjoy it too.

      Sometimes, we need to be reminded that it’s okay to be a kid.

      1. Very much so. I think for most, at least subconsciously, it’s a return to a happier time, when you felt loved and protected. The memory of that is what makes you respond to it.

  4. Oh, I can’t “like” this enough times! You eloquently capture the constant wonder of children, never bored with the everyday miracles, delighting in the mere and abundant existence of all things.

Leave a Reply