Kick Some Ash Wednesday! Give up to find innocence lost. Or give up giving up.

Watching my three spirited children grow, I’ve seen vividly the slippery slope of life and the loss of innocence we all go through.  One day, nothing makes them happier than a bowl of mushy rice cereal and a rattle.  Then they taste mashed carrots.  Next it is applesauce and their one-year-old birthday cake.  And once you introduce Skittles, chicken nuggets, and Xbox, there’s no turning back.  A kid who was once satisfied with strained beans and a rain puddle now wants a zillion-ingredient yogurt-blaster sundae and a giant water park extravaganza.

When you have multiple kids, you can see the loss of innocence happen more quickly with each progressive child.  I swear my oldest son was watching Thomas the Train until he was six.  But then he discovered superhero cartoons (I probably introduced him to them), which meant his little brother hardly had a chance to know the joys of wooden trains with creepy smiles.  Now my three-year-old daughter barely gets a shot at Sesame Street between laser blasts and cyborg battles.

All this makes me think back on my own life, the doors I’ve walked through and what I’ve left behind.  There was a time when I could have a great time with friends, hanging out all night, “partying” with Mountain Dew and Doritos and a few cassette tapes, not a beer or MP3 player in sight.  Now, going out with friends implies a bar, drinks, fancy dinners, and live music.  There was a time when I looked forward to an apple or a cold glass of water.  Now I eat fruits and veggies under threat of death.

I remember the freedom of not having a cell phone.  And when I finally got one–mostly to keep dibs on my kids–I hardly removed it from my backpack.  Now I have a smartphone.  It’s attached to me.  I wait for the ping announcing a new text/email like a dog waits for his dish.  I’d never give up the convenience of it, but there’s an innocence, a kind of freedom, I have lost.  The same has happened as each new technology is introduced into our lives–laptops, video streaming, a second car.

Our country is the same way.  In how many ways have we passed through a door and left something behind, sometimes for the good, but often for the worse.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the very doctor who twenty years ago championed wider use of opiate pain medications like Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet, is now critical of their use–now that 16,000 people a year are dying from overdoses and prescription drug abuse is rampant.  And what if we had thought a little harder before dumping high fructose corn syrup into everything we eat?    But can we go back?

What about starting a preemptive war like we did with Iraq?  Now we’ve set a precedent.  And as any supreme court justice or six-year-old will tell you–all you need is a precedent.  Once it is set, it is hard to go back.  Once you let the kids put sprinkles and hot fudge on their ice cream, they’ll never want plain vanilla again.

Some days I really want to hit the reset button.  I want to reclaim some sense of the innocence I’ve lost.  I want to be a kid again.  Jesus spoke of being born again and entering the kingdom of God like a child.  Lao Tzu makes six references in the Tao te Ching to the importance of remaining childlike.  The Buddha, it is said, was finally fully enlightened by a memory he had of when he was a six-years-old and most happy, just innocently sitting under a tree.  Sure, they’re speaking metaphorically.  But there is something to be said about really trying to become more like a child.

I believe we can change, rewire, and even regain what is lost.  We can become again that innocent kid who is happy with an apple, a little sunshine, and a shade tree.  All we really need is some time with an apple, the sun, and a tree.

Ash Wednesday is often associated with giving stuff up as some kind of sacrifice.  This year, it might be fun to give up something as a way to find something you’ve lost, a way to hit the reset button and step back to a more innocent time.  My wife and I recently gave up meat, for many reasons, but it had the beautiful effect of igniting a new passion in me for vegetables.  I gave up booze for a while as a way to remember what it was like to have fun without it.  I gave a caffeine as well, hoping to remember what it was like to sleep like a baby.  Then I promptly gave up giving up caffeine, in order to preserve the life of my kids and students.  Giving up giving up can be just as helpful sometimes.

Ideas to consider:

Give up TV as a way to regain a passion for reading.
Give up Facebook as a way to force yourself to connect physically with friends.
Give up alcohol as a way to remind yourself you can have fun without.
Give up driving to work to remember the joys of commuting/car-pooling/walking/biking.

What innocence would you like to reclaim?  How can you hit the reset button in one area of your life (in a good way)?

GIVE UP (all that is not essential) AND (remember you will) DIE (in five minutes or fifty years)…so start living the way you want to.

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