Children get excited.
When my two-year-old, raised thus far in squirrel-less Taiwan, first saw one of the lavishly-tailed critters in our American backyard, he shrieked at the top of his lungs and convulsed with joy. When my kids find a gecko or toad, they concentrate their full energy on creating its very own home, playground, or waterside resort to make it the happiest toad in the land.
Years ago, a friend and I watched as our mutual friends’ children played, unselfconscious of their own abandonment to imagination. She remarked that these were good kids, but when she had kids she would want them to be more socially suave. I was surprised at this, given that these kids easily conversed intelligently with adults and other kids, and they were enjoyable human beings. I think she felt embarrassed on their behalf, because they didn’t contain and constrain their earnestness.
See, excitement is vulnerable. It reveals unsafe things that we adults tend to hide: yearning and hope and desire. Hope is risky, because it could be dashed, and our unrequited desire displays as on a billboard that we aren’t enough: not good enough, loveable enough, smart enough. At least, that’s how it feels in the moment.
Desire is dangerous, then, and must be kept quiet in the sterile clean-room of Cool. The appeal of Cool is obvious in a world where things go wrong and we are sometimes powerless. But like an impulsively purchased pet python that seemed so harmless as a baby, have we forgotten how Cool can consume?
Cool refuses to be earnest; it reaches for nothing. Cool simply will not be found with arms outstretched, a goofy, determined look on its face, striving after a dream. Unacceptable. It won’t be found lacking in skill, not having achieved mastery at the first try. How embarrassing. Much safer to avoid it all than for people to witness our silliness or humiliation.
Cool protects you. It saves you from vulnerability, failure, and shame. Of course, Cool is a moving target, so keeping up with it is a very busy job and one you cannot afford to shirk. And sometimes, your wily desires escape from under your façade.
Love might be your downfall; it opens you to all kinds of wonders and perils. You may share hard-won, sacrificial bliss that surpasses anything else on earth. Or you could be spurned and exposed as one who wasn’t special enough to be appreciated in return. Any kind of ambition tosses you straight into the maw of uncoolness: it involves striving for something that Is Not Yet. It could lead to new creations that make your throat ache for beauty, but it could also fall flat and reveal your inadequacy. Imagination is just a mess. Why, it’s a veritable jellyroll of hope and yearning all spiraled together, and that sticky filling will get all over your suave exterior.
O Cool, what shall we do with you? Shall we take your hand, drinking the sweet syrup of smooth existence you offer, or shall we rebuff you and slog our way forward? Can we shake off your enticements? Do we dare?
If we dare to choose whole-heartedness, we release creativity from the strangulation of Cool and make it an offering for God’s kingdom purposes. And make no mistake: what we model as parents implicitly shapes our children’s entire approach. I want myself and my children to risk vulnerability. To dare earnest hope. To let our whole hearts get into our work without an exit strategy, instead of putting forth a little nub that can be pulled back at a moment’s notice.
Some people may look over their shoulder in embarrassment at our guileless excitement. But I’ll take it. The joy is worth it.