Gravity and Levity

Peter Pan might have been the most honest of my childhood archetypes. He endlessly proclaimed that he’d never grow up, insisting that he’d always be a boy. The rest of us have had to pretend that we would, could, and eventually did grow up, though our claims sometimes seem doubtful.

I questioned that my grandfather, who I remember as a grizzled coot with nicotine-stained fingertips and emphysema-thickened chuckle, ever was a boy, though he had a mile-wide mischievous streak and an unrelenting glint in his eye. His sixth grade school photo shows a barefoot Tom Sawyer look-alike, and I’m certain that he never fully out-grew those patched overalls and that soup bowl haircut.

Still, society seems to demand that each of us put aside our childish ways. We outgrow those perfect, favorite sneakers and have to settle for some inadequate replacements. Adult flavors tempt our sweet tooth away from simple pleasures into more savory and complex ones. We learn a lot, failing to maintain credible innocence about a flurry of unmentionable subjects. Our bodies and our voices betray us, and we become willing accomplices in an insidious form of self destruction.

All this transformation without benefit of a cloaking cocoon; right out in the open where every prying eye can see. Well, every prying eye except mine. Inside, I still feel about eight years old.

The Grand Otter’s (the grand daughter) well on her way toward completing her first, rough approximation of her grown up self. It’s really rough. And Peter Pan might not have gotten anything right. Sure, none of us ever really grow up. (I retain my eight year old self as surely as I hide that sacred school patrol badge in the bottom of my sock drawer; I revere my childish ways.) But we do out-grow and we do grow into and nothing can stop gravity’s one, true counterweight: levity.

In the middle ages, a solemn scientific society declared levity—the supposed opposite of gravity—a joke, thereby rendering it unsuitable for recognition, let alone serious study. And this mandate stuck, leaving gravity the only force without opposition in the recognized universe. Yet we still grow up, we grow out; defying gravity with a destiny perhaps better recognized as levity.

If we can’t laugh about these changes, we’d be doomed to cry our eyes out over them. The innocence of youth becomes the ignorance of maturity, fondly remembering a time never fully lost.

Perhaps we are all somewhere in the middle between never growing up and endlessly out-growing, gravity and levity in imperfect balance.

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