Dancing in Neverland

What Happened to Pretend?

Sometimes it feels as if we live in a patchwork–in lives stitched together by a thousand pockets protecting a thousand shades of who we are. Memories and old friends fill one, and this pocket we call Nostalgia. Ambition and excitement lives in another; this, we call Hope.

Some pockets slip away with time and, among the forgotten, we find the one filled with fantasy: in this pocket, we find Neverland…

“Pretend I’m a wizard and you’re looking for the Sword of Ever, and–”

“That’s dumb, Justin. The “Sword of Ever” is a DUMB name, Justin Lee Jones,” C.J. interrupts me with the twangy full-name-I’m-serious southern tradition. He’s my best friend. We’re 9 years old.

“ANYWAYS,” I brush off his ridiculous criticism, “I’m a wizard with a pointy hat and I’m wearing all blue with gold moons and stars all over and I have a wand that is gold and it has a star on the end of it. But it isn’t a girl star. Also, my robe is made of velvet, and the stars are shiny.”

C.J.’s eyes glaze over as they usually do during my wardrobe descriptions.

“C.J.! Play right or I’m not gonna be your friend anymore.”

“OK, but I get to pick everything next time.”

C.J. and I play Wizard for the next three hours. Our quest: Retrieve the Sword of Ever from the clutches of the Grand High Witch in the Winter Forest.

The Casual Observer would call C.J. and me “welfare children.” They’d see us running around a government-subsidized apartment community with a broken toy dagger, screaming in agony about our lot in life. The Casual Observer can’t see the thousand-foot tall diamond trees that we do, or the giant ice castles hidden in the bushes. They don’t smell the Bewitching Flowers used to entrance enemy soldiers. They don’t know that our screams are calls to unleash the Bright Monsters–the Monsters that will come to defeat our Witch.

That’s because the Casual Observers are Grownups: those who seek truth rather than possibility. Those who have forgotten Neverland.

Think now to your childhood. Think to a time when your favorite toys weren’t the ones in your room, but the ones in your head. Think to a time when the world was your playground–when no surface, no tree, no stair, no cardboard box was immune from your imagination. When mounds of sand became castles. These were the most enchanting days of our lives. Nothing was what it seemed, and the grownups were always too foolish to see it.

Back then, we were the ultimate visionaries, the ultimate purveyors of Carpé Diem. We were explosive little monsters pretending to be everything but.

A day would come, though, when the impossible occurred: the day we grew up–the day we said never would happen. On this day, we folded up our intricate imaginations and tucked them away from the world, for fear of ridicule and rejection. “Pretend” became “reality.”

We’ve since forgotten Neverland. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the world–why kids can befriend one another with no pretense or judgment while we, the grownups, view cynically our peers’ ambitions and lock away our hearts so we’re never too disappointed. But just because we let the fantasy slip away doesn’t mean it disappeared. It’s still alive–still tucked away into that patchwork pocket, waiting to enchant us once again. All we need to do is to see Possibility–to replace pretense with play and fears of rejection with hope. Only then will we return to Neverland.

Neverland. The place where nobody grows up. Where nobody stops pretending. A self-sufficient place, still. A place still burdened with chores, yes, but a place where chores are a means to an end–not a way of life. Here, there is but one rule: do not see things for what they are–see things for what they can become.

The last time I played with C.J. was when we were 11 years old. Neither of us is sure why we stopped then, but both of us are certain that we wish we hadn’t…

Come away with me, then, to a place we’ve been before. Let’s go Dancing in Neverland.

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