I told a lie. That was bad enough, but to think that my kids heard me. It was the kind of lie that adults call white, but a seven year old is color blind when it comes to her parents’ actions. I was paying for tickets and children under 7 were free. She had only JUST turned seven. It seemed harmless enough to me. When I turned around and saw them standing there listening, I was devastated. I could see a reflection of the apple dropping out of the tree of good and evil in their wide eyes. Innocence was lost.
It’s a look I’d seen before, like when I had to hold down my two year old son for a lumbar puncture and he looked at me with betrayal in his eyes. I wanted to tell him what Atticus Finch told Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, “There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible." We all go through it at some point. The garden paradise we had expected turns out to be overrun with weeds. Circumstances can be cruel, nature can strike without warning, people in positions of trust are abusive, and parents lie.
Comedian, George Carlin, was less patient than Atticus Finch. He said, “I'm tired of hearing about innocent victims; this is an outmoded idea. There are no innocent victims. If you're born in this world you're guilty, period. Your birth certificate is proof of guilt.”
What about victims of rape and war? Are they guilty? This seems very harsh. Maybe Carlin was suggesting that to live is to be involved in the messy confusion of life. Each moment happens whether you are ready or not. Things happen, awful things happen, and even if you suffer innocently there are parts of you that can never be anyone’s victim. They remain within your choice and power – things such as your attitude and your thoughts. This is not to say it’s easy, because it’s certainly not, but it is possible to rise about trauma and regain lost innocence.
Is it wrong to expect innocence to last? Is innocence just a childlike quality that we grow out of? As the old proverb says, “Innocence plays in the backyard of ignorance.” You can’t live your life with blinkers on. Maybe innocence is like an evolutionary bubble-wrap that keeps you optimistic for long enough to find your way in the world – before the rot sets in.
What is the alternative to innocence? A life of bitterness or loneliness where you can’t forgive, can’t trust your own judgment, can’t believe in your own dreams? Is that living? It’s no accident that the Hebrew word for innocence is “Tam”. When Tam is spelled in reverse, it forms the word for death. The loss of innocence is the beginning of death.
Call me naive, but I still believe that innocence is possible. For me, innocence is neither a childlike faith that needs to be protected from reality nor is it an adult realism that is blunted by life experience. It is mature innocence, sharpened by experience and shaped by reality. Innocence is at least one half of wisdom. It is the half of wisdom that refuses to follow fear’s lead. Fear turns experience into unchanging beliefs about yourself and the world. Innocence is the gateway to love and optimism that manifest in ever changing ways.
In a sense, innocence is the essence of your inner sense that all there is is love. There is nothing to defend, nothing to protect, nothing to fear and nothing to lose. It’s so easy to forget this along the way. Love exists despite overwhelming evidence – thorns have roses, tears have heart and trauma has wisdom.
This sort of innocence doesn’t expect perfection. Even the people you trust most will hurt you greatly. Trauma will strike somebody, somewhere, if not you. Parents will lie. Life will be hard. But underneath it all, you have a spirit that remains open and peaceful. It connects you to the Source of life that is resilient enough to withstand any hardship and gentle enough to cradle your innocence like a new born baby. This innocence can never be fully lost. Only forgotten.