The Return of Innocence
There is a yearning in me, a deep-rooted urge to seek, to go back and find something I lost. Something that somehow slipped away over time, without my knowing. A feeling that belonged wholly to me and to my spirit. It held the essences of freedom and joy that were so distinct. It could be described as Going Home.
Of course, I’ve held on to memories of the times I cherished from my childhood; some good, some … not so good. Whatever my perception of the experience, there are some events that spoke to me more than just as a memory. They resemble a dream sequence, encoded into the SPIRIT DNA of my soul—like cellular memories, attached to a story or feeling beyond this everyday life. As I matured, they slowly became buried underneath a layered pile of expectations from parents, society, peers, and the cultural norm of our attention-demanding modern world.
Being now in my mid-forties, I can attest that—yes—memories fade. But events, imbued with a light energy that surrounds the experience, reach into the everlasting infinite. There are triggers, exceptional occurrences in our lifetime (like the death of someone close or having children), that eventually bring back these dream like experiences. Everyone has had these sort of experiences growing up, where still to this day the event is not only visually clear, but also intensely seeped in a visceral quality that engrosses all the senses.
For me, one of these memories is fishing with my cousin in the mountains of New Hampshire. We were about ten years old—still children, no doubt, but old enough to venture away from our campsite by the rocky river. While roasting hot dogs over an open fire the night prior, we made a plan for our fishing adventure the next day. Taking on an air of youthful bravado, we decided to head downstream, looking for the bigger trout as the river widened and grew deep. We got up that next morning and put on our t-shirts, socks and knee-holed jeans that smelled of last night’s fire. With our poles, fish baskets and can of worms, we left the campsite where our parents were making breakfast and set off together.
The water’s rushing sound fell distant as we walked to a trail that would take us further downstream faster than if we followed the riverbank and rock-hopped our way there. We zigzagged through the forest, on each other’s heels, alternating the lead position. Green leaves brushed across my face and body as we navigated our way through the trees. The dank aroma of decaying leaves littered on the forest floor from years prior gave us a surge of energy to fulfill our quest.
I knew we were near the river as the sound of the rushing water began to grow again. We cleared a knoll, and as if someone opened a door to a live concert, the river roared in full grandeur. We had to yell to each other in order to hear, even though we were only a few feet apart. We hashed out who would carry the worms (a task that warrants unwanted responsibility, but also gives you instant access to getting bait back onto your hook). The river had pools of water that were deep, with waterfalls layering it’s gradual descent. We were both catching the super-sized trout we were looking for, returning the small ones for the future, theirs and ours.
Although we couldn’t communicate with words to each other because of the noise of the river, once in awhile we caught the other’s glance and put our hands up, giving the fisherman’s universal sign with two fingers saying I caught one this big. I remember seeing my cousin’s fishing pole bend nearly ninety degrees as he hooked a big one—his face became serious, his eyes large and focused as he tried to tame the beast at the end of his line. He struggled with his footing, stepping side to side, slipping on the wet rocks while trying to stay standing. As he reeled his prize catch toward the shore, he dropped his line to grab it with his hands.
The trout splashed onto the river’s edge ... I could see it, and it was a big one. My cousin continued to grab at the slippery fish and was able to finally catch it, along with a mess of fishing line. He looked up at me, his eyes wide, Oh my God!. He moved to the safety of the river’s dry banks, but slipped on the wet rocks, landing squarely on his behind. In that moment, the fish fell back into the river, and yes, got away. The sound of the river was so consuming I hadn’t realized I was laughing until I felt my body shaking. The moment was a torturous pleasure, catching and losing the giant fish.
We continued for a ways downstream, to where the water no longer deafened our ears. In front of us, just before a bend in the river, a tree had fallen and spanned its banks. The morning sun shone through the leafy canopy, hitting the water with an iridescent glow, when all of a sudden it hit me: The majestic beauty of the scene; the sound of the water coursing in the background; the stillness that ran within, deeper than any river. It wasn’t time coming to a stop; it was time exposing itself to be timeless. Everything felt Right, like I understood something greater than myself, yet that I played an integral part in it all. The moment had revealed an in-depth disclosure of life; yet I could find no words capable of describing it. I stood there, as long as the moment allowed itself to unfold, relishing every measure it offered, yet not fully understanding what I was experiencing.
As the years went by, this event stayed with me, tucked in a special file of the data banks of my mind. I held onto it for many years, like some secret that I couldn’t share with anyone because of the blank stare I would surely get back from the listener. Throughout the next twenty years I had major events happen in my life: I lost my father when I was nineteen after a long battle with illness; I graduated college (the first in my family); I moved across the country to Los Angeles to become an actor and eventually got married. All of these major events were catalysts that trigger deep-rooted memories, some good, some not so good. Memories that break through the walls that separate the unconscious from the conscious with torrent flush; immediately trailed by a powerful, open-hearted hunger to reconnect with our childhood.
But it wasn’t until I became a father that I felt the absolute need to not only reconnect with the unique events I had as a child, but to relive them with my children in hopes of passing on these extraordinary experiences. For years now I’ve been taking my kids back to the same mountains of New Hampshire, fishing the same lakes and streams I did as a child, giving them the opportunity to have their own similar experiences that they can carry throughout their lives. Only now do I understand why as parents many of us are trying to pass on the experiences of our childhood to our offspring. It’s more than just “Well, that’s how we did it when we were kids.” But whether it’s fishing in New Hampshire or creating completely new experiences with my children, I can feel it when that magic moment is happening to them, as an adult observing it unfold. As great as it feels, it leaves me wanting more. I understand the desire to reconnect with that part of us that was lost, forgotten, ignored along the transition to adulthood. It’s the pursuit of the one thing that is inherent in children, that radiates true freedom and joy.
What is it? It’s called, innocence. A pure state of being that is never truly relinquished, no matter how much we may judge our past.
But why do we yearn for the return of innocence in the latter years of our life? And what purpose does it serve us?
Can we continue to live our adult lives, even beyond the raising of our children, with that inherent innocence we experienced as a child?
As adults we have much knowledge of worldly affairs, for better or worse. But can we incorporate innocence in such a way that elevates our lives to connect with each other in absolute freedom and joy? To blaze the frontier of humanity and go beyond everything we’ve been told by schools, society, government and scientific research. Not in rebuttal to all these things, but to embark on a quest that goes high and above what any of these ‘institutions’ are able to offer us?
Because after all, what is this human experience meant for?
Steven Roy is an actor, writer and Yogi, husband to Carrie-Anne Moss and father of three.