— Ray Ashford, And We Fly Away
Growing up, I had a boxful of sleek Hot Wheels and yards and yards of the bright orange tracks along which the little cars zoomed. The loop-the-loop add-on never worked that well, but it did enhance the drama of the crashes. As marshal-general of multiple units of little green plastic soldiers, I strategized over many a pitched battle on the floor of our living room. And I loved my G.I. Joes—especially the astronaut one. With a flashlight in my right hand and his silver space capsule in my left, he made many a distant journey to imagined worlds where he'd often, in a closet simulating the darkness of outer space, encounter aliens in the form of my sisters' stuffed animals or that of our family's dachshund, Nietzel. As I got a little older, my brother and I developed whole rosters of fictitious baseball and football teams. We'd create colorful trading cards with made-up names and detailed stats. Then he'd play as one team and I'd play as another out in our backyard. We'd even get our mother to sing the National Anthem before the momentous first pitch or the opening kickoff of our games. This is all to say, I had a pretty wondrous childhood, and as a kid, I had an active imagination.
Our capacity to wonder, to imagine, to play make-believe, helps us as we grow up. It improves our brain function. It stimulates creativity. It helps us socialize. It refreshes our stores of energy, calms our anxieties, and nurses along our sense of well-being. And while it's commonly said we tend to lose our sense of wonder as we grow up, I don't really think this is the case. Perhaps we lose our sense of childlike wonder, but most of us maintain robust imaginations into our adulthoods, we just utilize them differently as we get older. We enjoy following TV shows that require a complete suspension of disbelief. We rush to movies featuring all manner of superheroes. Some of us dress up and go to the Renaissance Festival or take on the role of an owner in a fantasy football league each fall. We sink ourselves into imagined stories all the time, and it still has the effect of expanding our minds, re-energizing our souls, calming our anxieties, and nurturing our sense of well-being. Most importantly, our imaginations help us navigate the terrain of adulthood as we face more and more of life's most arduous trials.
The expansive and winsome imagination of a thoughtful Christian writer, one named Ray Ashford, is put to such use in his graceful little book entitled And We Fly Away. In spare and poetic prose, Ashford chronicles his wife's descent into dementia, shepherding himself through the exquisitely dark season of loss and grief by the beautiful light of the words, "I wonder?" For instance, he explores with penetrating curiosity the question of where the lost part of his wife has now gone. Has it been obliterated? Has it just disappeared? Fortified with hope, allied with his faith, he concludes his God would not permit this, then wonders if a human soul might instead be divisible. He wonders if a soul might be somehow sundered for a time only to be magnificently and eternally made whole again one day. He writes:
Could it be, I wonder, that the part of my beloved that has gone, has merely gone on ahead, and, there, in that eternal dimension, is awaiting the remnants I can still see, awaiting that triumphant day when once more she will be whole, entire, complete.
I read this passage years ago when my parents were suffering like Ashford's wife, and found it terribly comforting. Not necessarily because I thought it was true, but maybe because it just might be. Because it could be. Because it was so lovely. It made me wonder, and just the act of wondering itself somehow offered a measure of healing to my soul.
I don't know, but I wonder—if you're facing the unknown, if you're mired in a place of suffering, if you're just stuck—maybe setting aside some time and space to wonder might help. Make a distant journey to an imagined land and explore it. Just because you've left stuffed animals and GI Joes behind doesn't mean this is off-limits. It's not against the rules of adulthood to use the powers of your mind and heart to refresh your energy, to calm your anxieties, and to nurse along your sense of well-being. Swing a flashlight around in the dark and into the realm of the just-might-be.
God — I wonder... Amen.
— Greg Funderburk