I used to say that I wanted to “grow up into childhood”. Now in my old age, I think about that statement and about my childhood. Certainly, it was not the kind of childhood anyone would want. Much of it was brutal poverty, deprivation of all sorts of things considered fundamental for a happy, healthy child by sociological experts, but description is not to the point. Nor does my memory paint some kind of rosy haze over it all. Long-term memory is much sharper in old people than in the young, even if our short-term memory is not so good anymore.
There are people who count and measure things so much we might consider it a compulsion, a reflex, or instinct. But whatever term we use, pejorative or ameliorative, it is what they do. They are, in a word which they’d approve, useful. Without them, we wouldn’t have the wonderful technology we have now. They must always be the first consult for all matters quantitative.
That doesn’t include education, where their influence is almost never constructive. Nor should it include professions that deal with people in personal ways, like certain social “sciences”. In fact, sometimes I think we might do better to get over our obsession with credentialed expertise and stop creating artificial bodies of knowledge composed of stats and graphs and such–except that there will always be those who hunger to be called “experts.” It’s a vanity, but like most pursuits of vanity, its origin is a sense of inferiority, and so we must be kind toward them, waving their degrees and their authority. They have been taught to believe that fact and truth are synonymous. They don’t know any better.
But I believe we are born with a love for truth, beauty, and goodness already living in our hearts. Blessed is the child who does not experience the murder of any part of this love early on, too early for memory to serve him later in desperate search and recovery. Whatever the circumstances of his birth, if this love survives, so will he. And eventually, unhindered (perhaps ignored), he will learn that his passion for truth, his reverence for beauty, and his veneration of goodness are not different things, but one thing. And he will come to know it as Lord, before whom he bows in never-ending gratitude, so that the more he loves, the greater his capacity for love becomes. Whether he ever gains expertise of any kind, he will gain wisdom.
If social workers, credentialed and certain that they possess all the data required for proper child-rearing, had got hold of me when I was a child, that soul-murder would have happened to me. I was abused, abandoned, neglected, rejected, extremely poor and skinny. (I am bemused these days by the obesity of those people who are always claiming poverty and demanding free everything. Fat people may be pitiable, but they’re not poor.) Fortunately for me, social workers were not yet invented when I was a child.
“…[N]or can foot feel, being shod.” Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” did apply quite directly to me as did so many other lovely and true lines I would learn later. Barefoot, I could feel the earth. I did have one pair of shoes, some black patent Mary Janes my mother kept so long for some unknown occasion that I outgrew them before I wore them.
I loved beauty without knowing that it was both source and object of all my childhood wonder and joy. And this love was never suppressed in me but allowed to expand and grow to such proportions that no data collector could have ever measured it. Because of it, all the bad things like poverty or abuse could not damage or limit it. I didn’t meet the Source of it until very much later in life, but when I did, I recognized him instantly, for I had known him intimately all my life, maybe even before that, since he always was, is, and ever will be.
I see the fundraising videos on television of skinny little African children, playing barefoot in refuse-ridden dust, grinning and giggling. There is a purity in their joy that is impervious to external impurities. I’m glad they’re not here, where the “… ceremony of innocence is drowned,” shamed out of them by people who, not recognizing their own hate and anger, inject that poison into the hearts of children as education; here, where children are killed by the millions by people who must be forgiven, for they know not what they do.