Alan is totally absorbed in playing with Spencer the Engine,
one of the characters of Thomas the Tank Engine TV show.
The Merrian-Webster Dictionary defines Imagination as:
- the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality
- a: creative ability
b: ability to confront and deal with a problem : resourcefulness
<use your imagination and get us out of here>
c: the thinking or active mind : interest
<stories that fired the imagination>
- a: a creation of the mind; especially : an idealized or poetic creation
b: fanciful or empty assumption
Every one of us is imaginative in our own particular and for some, peculiar, ways. We can’t help it because it is hardwired into to us.
In my previous post, Delight, I wrote about going to Olivia’s third birthday party. I was surrounded by small children doing what small children do when they get together. I noticed that they played side-by-side but not necessarily together. Play is a very fluid situation in which the children most often focus on individual interests and occasionally coalesce into larger groups for a common interaction. Social play requires the sharing of toys and attention which, for young children, doesn’t come easily.
At one time, it was commonly believed that children playing make-believe and daydreaming were lost in a fantasy world. A world that they went to so as to escape reality and as they mature become more reality based. However, today that is not the case.
A Wall Street Journal article, The Power of Magical Thinking, by Shirley Wang explores recent thinking about how children use their imaginations to test reality and too to try to understand things that are not concrete. As they grow older, this ability allows them to comprehend lessons in school, such as history, literature and mathematics.
I believe that children use their imaginations to develop empathy for animals and other people. How often have you heard or said, “How do you think they feel?” Perhaps some of the people who act cruelly never developed empathy because their imaginations weren’t fully developed or directed in more narrow pursuits and not allowed flower.
Today, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the sciences and mathematics with the humanities and arts being shoved aside. Imagination is critical for success in all these disciplines. Yet, if we do not focus on the humanities and arts I think that we run the risk of developing imaginative business people, engineers, scientist, and mathematicians who have no idea about the impact of their actions on others and our planet.
While I watched Alan playing with his train I was reminded of my childhood and playing with toy soldiers in a shady patch beside my house. It was a cool place even on the hottest Ohio summer days. Moss and ferns grew in the sun dappled shadows. It was the perfect place for a child to let his imagination run free. I dug small trenches, built dugouts with twigs and moss, and enacted fierce battles between my green soldiers. I re-enacted the World War II movies that I saw on TV. It may be that in those moments as I lay on my stomach and peered intently at my toys, like Alan and his train, I began to imitate certain social values: sacrifice and valor. It was only when I was an adult that I began to comprehend the personal cost of such ideals and why they are so important.
Sometimes today, on a particularly good day, while I am writing, I become submerged in that imaginative space and loose myself in the words, phrases and sentences. I hold them up to my mind’s eye and turn them over and over, peering intently at them like I once did with little green warriors. It is then that I write things that come from a place outside myself. It is then that my awareness of the world and its relationships expands and perhaps a grow just a bit.
Note: Alan is not the child’s real name. For reasons of privacy I have changed his name.