I recall in my tarot days we would study the major arcana and here was this funny card that started us off on our personal journey – the zero card. The fool set off with his knapsack and his trusty canine companion. Voltaire’s Candide was a fool; so was Pollyanna; so was Chance the Gardener from Being There. I remember reading Candide during college and thinking it was both funny and sad because throughout Candide’s travels and travails, he loses some of his innocence, although not all of it. The subtitle to the book is “Or Optimism” and that certainly is one of the qualities that Candide keeps.
Same for our girl Pollyanna with her “Glad Game.” And Chance – well, he’s the Barack Obama of his day – people project all their hopes and wishes on him and bada bing, bada boom, he ends up a Senator (well, not yet President, but if Peter Sellars had lived, perhaps….). Chance is a simpleton, and the movie is played for laughs and satire, which is appropriate, but there’s a more somber and wondrous aspect to him, too. Everything in his experience is new and the fact that he learns through the TV is both ridiculous and yet tender.
I’ve always been a closet optimist. I wasn’t able to be openly optimistic because to do so would have been to risk too much of myself in an unsafe world. I remember the mid-60’s singing group Up With People (and here’s a little bit of trivia – Glenn Close has a long-ago history with the group) which I remember renaming “Up With Lunch” even as I desperately wanted to have the innocence that these kids seemingly had with their Ozzie and Harriet lives, singing their positive ditties.
When I was 13 the paperback of The Godfather was being passed around, with a page prominently dogeared where Sonny has sex with one the bridesmaids against a door at his own wedding! It was shocking and arousing for both the boys and girls, promising a raw and urgent sexuality, and not too long after that my girlfriends began heading around all of the bases; one in particular was having S-E-X at age 14. But worse than any activity was the attitude of extreme casualness to the point of cynicism about our nascent sexuality. Yes, some of my friends were giving bj’s to their boyfriends to retain their virginity bragging rights – even in 1973.
Now understand I’m not advocating virginity in thought, word and deed for everybody under the age of 30, but later when I was in my own therapy and began examining my own behaviors, thoughts and feelings I realized I’d lost, or thrown away, something quite precious indeed. It wasn’t about the sex, but what it meant to be promiscuous with my body, especially with boys and men who didn’t love me and who I could barely remember their first names. (hey, it mostly was the 1970’s here). What I’d really lost was the capacity for wonder, for seeing the goodness in others and in myself. I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for anything and I was bored a lot. I was cool, but unhappy and my way out was to allow myself to become a fool.
For this to occur, I had to allow myself to look, sound and act “foolish” at least part of the time and for that to occur, I had to feel safe in my world. That took time, but eventually I realized that my original innocence was back, at least most of the time. Since then, I’ve been accused of being a “Pollyanna”, naive and even stupid.
But I remember what Marianne Williamson said (which I have to paraphrase)
“The innocence of a child is beautiful, but even more so is the innocence of an adult who has gone through hell and back.”
And yes, there are times when I slip back into hard-edged cynical wariness of this world in which we’re all just trying to do our best to survive. Mostly, though, I live with more fool and less cynic – I’m often awed by the beauty or fascinating ugliness of this world and of my fellow humans. I’m almost never bored, that’s for sure.