A Little Child Shall Lead Them
One theme that runs through literature is the crusty adult transformed to reclaim a childlike joy and ability to relate to others in new way. This process usually happens through a change agent. George Banks had Mary Poppins. Captain Von Trapp had Maria. Archibald Lennox had his niece, Mary in the classic book, The Secret Garden.
This book plays on the theme in an interesting way. First Mary, as a ten-year-old girl, is the preternaturally crusty one. Her wealthy parents never gave her attention, and the servants accommodated her every whim to keep her quiet and out of their way. Mary’s parents die when a cholera epidemic hits in India. She’s sent to live on an estate in England with her Uncle Archibald, whom she has never met. Like her parents, he is never home and has shut off the garden, out of grief over the death of his wife.
Mary must go through her own transformation from a demanding and angry child to one with the capacity to play and care for others. Her change agents are a family servant and the servant’s children, who help in discovering the secret garden. Eventually Uncle Archibald comes back, and through Mary is restored to a capacity for joy and relationship.
As we think about the second half of life, we realize that what can cut us off from joy and narrow our personalities is often the accumulated losses and misfortunes we experience. Who are the change agents in our life to keep us focused on joy and help us let go of resentment? Can we be that for ourselves? Psychology and religion alike develop the theme that adults need follow the example of children to recapture the fullness of life. The Hebrew Scriptures depict this hopefulness: “The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6