For the past few months the tooth fairy has earned a bad reputation at our house. She is often a day, or several days, late in delivering the coveted dollar for the latest tooth to fall from one of our younger children’s mouths. My wife and I have chronicled her tardiness on more than a few Facebook statuses and relieved to learn that our tooth fairy is not alone in being late. Her brother’s wife Kim is also having problems with the tooth fairy and has even gone so far as to outsource a replacement fairy. While she and her husband were here with their children to celebrate my daughter’s birthday a few weekends ago she admitted that while they were staying in town at a hotel her own sister had a key to their home and was ensuring that the tooth fairy had arrived and whatever gifts she was to bring would be awaiting Kim’s children upon their return home.
We ourselves were tardy again Sunday morning, then again on Monday. Upon waking Monday morning my daughter did a quick survey under her pillow and found nothing. Stumbling sleepy-eyed into the kitchen she sighed “I guess the tooth fairy is sick” to my wife and me. Turning around to exit the kitchen she mumbled “Maybe she broke a wing” and went to get dressed for school.
Monday afternoon she came home from school and discovered that the tooth fairy had added a school-day route to her delivery cycle. Crisis averted…until next time.
This is all I was going to write on the subject of our tooth fairy adventures. And then I asked myself: Why do we do this? Why do we perpetuate such myths in our household? Not just myths of tooth fairies and Santa Claus and hobbits and wizards and elves, but also tales of knights and maidens and dragons. Of chivalry, honor, courage, truth and beauty. Of saints and sinners. Why do we do this? Shouldn’t we grow up as adults use reason only and allow the world to force our children to grow up? How does this all square with what the cynics of this world consider the Greatest Myth of All: Christianity?
One can hardly look at the world today and witness what happens when we stop believing in things bigger than ourselves. Nihilism, narcissism and the cold, gray nothingness of despair is running rampant in our world and, saddest of all, infecting our children. We are robbing our children of hope. How can one experience joy, beauty or even love without hope?
Or should we simply limit ourselves to what we can see and feel around us and use only reason? Last night I read the following passage from this book by St. Alphonsus Liguori while watching my son’s indoor baseball practice and it reminded me of my own journey in my life of faith.
Reason takes us, as it were, by the hand and leads us into the sanctuary of faith, but itself remains standing at the threshold. Once we are convinced that the truths we are asked to believe really come from God, we are obliged to submit our reason and, on the strength of God’s word, to accept as certain the truths proposed, though we may not or cannot understand them. This is the humble simplicity so characteristic of the child, and of which St. Peter speaks when he says: “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2).
This was from a chapter on the subject of faith in which St. Liguori was speaking of truth. No matter how many tantrums we throw as a species and scream that there is no absolute truth (which is ironically a statement made by someone who is uttering an absolute truth about truth), the fact remains that there are such truths. If we utilize our reason in a way that is honest with ourselves and the world around us it will take us to that threshold.
We find those truths hidden in the myths and fairy tales of yore. Indeed that is one of the main purposes of fairy tales, myths and legends. In his new book The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (which I highly recommend) Dwight Longenecker writes about the differences between those who are romantics and those who are not.
…almost all of us are romantics at heart. Simply take us into the darkened hush of the cinema or theater and all our cynicism drops away. Allow us for one moment to be entranced by the spell of the storyteller, and the Cyrano de Bergerac in each one of us comes alive. There in the darkness the child within still believes that there are things as truth, beauty, and goodness. Even when we lapse into cynicism, doubt, and despair, the romantic in us lives—otherwise why would we be cynical and despairing?
The reason we become cynical is that we have come to believe that the ideals we thought were true are not true after all, or if they are true, they are impossible. We lapse into despair because we have lost the hope that goodness, truth, and beauty will prevail in the end. Thus, even the most despairing cynic proves that the romantic’s beliefs and hopes are an indelible and universal part of the human heart. If you like, cynicism and despair exist like parasites on belief and hope. You could say that despair is the compliment the cynic pays to the romantic idealist.
When living in despair as cynics our lives have the flavor of what Screwtape prescribed in C. S. Lewis’ collection of that devil’s letters:
All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong.” And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.
This malaise is growing ever larger and ever stronger among our youth today. Just a few days ago I read where devices with screens now outnumber toys as gifts given to children. Screens that involve little thought, adventure or, if you will, pain of risking and failing. Longenecker continues:
The romantic way is an adventure with both great risks and great gains. On the other hand, to endure life as a cynic is at best jaded and dull, and at worst bitter and despairing. It is a dead-end street. Think of it like this: We all stand on the deck of a sinking ship. The Epicurean (those who seek only to enjoy life while it lasts) enjoys a five-course meal and drinks a cocktail and dances while the ship goes down. The Stoic (those who believe the suffering of life should be avoided through discipline and noble behavior) gives up his lifejacket and stands on the bridge in silent dignity, awaiting the deluge. But the romantic spots a distant light, decides it is a lifeboat, then jumps in to either swim for safety or die in the attempt.
The Epicurean and the Stoic both believe that there is nothing after this life. The romantic believes that there is more. In Part Two I’ll cover a bit of the “more”.
photo credits: Me and bonzasheila.com.