In his short story "The Silver Key" H.P. Lovecraft writes of how his protagonist changed "as middle age hardened upon him":
"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference between those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value one above the other."
There's a lot to be unpacked in that. I think a lot about the sense of wonder; when I walk in our back yard these days I see the same sort of things I saw when I was a kid (well, mostly -- these days most lawns are better manicured and I remember many more bees and butterflies; a loss to our civilizations). But I don't feel the magic, I only remember the feelings I had as a young boy; the beauty of a dandelion, with its bright yellow flower busy with bees, or later, when the flower had gone to fluff, the way that fluff danced in the breeze. I remember climbing trees, effortlessly, and can still picture the view, and remember the smells of leaves and bark and the texture of the tree. Sometimes coming across an empty cicada shell, or even a bird's nest.
I remember discovering a small pond not far from my house, and spending hours there, watching the tadpoles surface and leave concentric circles on the otherwise glossy water; there were dragonflies, too, aerial dancers;and sometimes grasshoppers, big ones, flying ones, little ones, all surrounded by tall wild grasses. The smell of fertile mud and still water.
More than that I felt intuitively that I belonged, and that the world welcomed me to find hidden meanings and treasures. I imagined being an early settler on the Great Plains, and would sometimes lie on the ground looking at the horizon, pretending that over the next hill was not home and civilization, but unbroken prairie and yet unknown mysteries, waiting for me.
All that and much more is somewhere in my memory bank, but try as I will I cannot quite, yet anyway, recapture the sense of wonder, the dreaming, the magical merger of the world and myself.
I also remember the slow process of the "hardening" that did indeed settle upon me as I reached middle age; when logic rose up and imposed itself, decreeing it would be best to set all that aside and concentrate on things that mattered in a worldly material sense. I succeeded.
And now, at the edge of my dotage, I begin to realize what was lost; but more than that, when I look carefully I find traces of that wonder, and have begun to follow those traces in hopes of re-discovering that inner world, which I presumed was gone for good, but which I now see has always been there, always remains; it never left me -- I left it.
I begin to think that child is waiting for me, not to re-become me or for me to become childish, but to show me and share with me the magical essence of life.
I hope so. I know now how much I miss him, and how easy it was to callously leave him behind.
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