While driving between office sites last week, I got my “daily smile” when I saw a mom walking with her two daughters, whose faces were peaking out of square openings cut into cardboard boxes. The cardboard boxes were unremarkable: no glittery paint, no accordion tubes encirling their arms. In fact, now that I recall it, the boxes didn’t even have holes for the girls’ arms. Most conspicuous were the enormous grins on the girls’ faces, and the joyful — albeit somewhat embarrassed — grin on their mother’s face.
It’s my guess that the girls were pretending to be robots, though the expansiveness of a child’s imagination is such that, really, they could have been pretending to be just about anything. And something tells me that they weren’t doing this because they were going to a costume party or some sort of event. Had they been, I’m sure they would have put more effort into decorating their costumes. I’m willing to bet that they just stumbled across cardboard boxes and decided to be robots for the day.
I’m 30, which most consider still young, but many days childhood feels to me like a distant memory. I have very little hair left on my head, and my once vivid blue eyes have faded a bit. I have considerably less energy than I used to and, lately, it seems to be a great deal harder to get up off the floor from playing with my son. But I’m not so old that I can’t remember the hours of fun I could distill from a cardboard box when I was a kid. The simplest things were imbued with infinite possibilities.
As we age, some imagination stays with us but, as J. M. Barrie wrote, “all children, except one, grow up.” That might be a tad too low of an estimate — I think there are a few lucky ones whose capacity for imagination never wanes, and an even fewer clever or talented ones who manage to make a living from it — but the general idea remains true: our society is woefully intolerant of those who live with their heads in the clouds.
Today, I am thankful for imagination, that gracious element that instills life with a little bit more sweetness. And I am thankful, too, for people like the girls’ mother, who foster it in others. There is no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it could be fairly argued that humans are the only animal on the planet with an ability to imagine, and that makes it a rare and marvelous gift, worthy of gratitude.