Sunday, July 15, 2007
I grew up in Illinois, in the Rock River Valley, nestled against the rolling hills that always tend to accompany a river. It was a white-trash neighborhood filled with people of little financial means but big hearts, and really, a place where a novel should be set. Maybe one day I'll write that novel.
We had a babysitter, a teenager who lived across the street, a "tough girl" who smoked, loved horses, and had a soft side that didn't normally manifest. But one summer day when Mom was working and Annette was in the mood, she took us hiking. We were familiar with the local trails, the ones we went sledding on in winter, the trails my brother warned me were dangerous due to the fictional quicksand, and the monsters the inhabited a particular area. But of course, I had my own imagination and I knew that Bambi and Faline and the Great Prince of the Forest resided in a small thicket where the gravel road forked, so I was never afraid to walk the trail to visit my friends down the road.
Annette, though, took us beyond the beaten paths. Through the summer humidity we barely felt, through the dappled shade, across brooks with skating water spiders that made me scream and shy away, Annette lead and even forced us onward and upward, into one of our great childhood adventures, to a destination you’ll never find in any travel guide, but which hides in the hills and valleys of Rock River Valley; Skyway.
Back in the late 80's, I remember watching the movie on TV, "Bridge to Terebithia", about a girl and a boy who are both bullied in school due to different reasons, yet find deep, true friendship and a special place shared only by them.
Back in those years, I was having problems of my own...I actually identified with both characters. I won't go so far as to say I was "bullied", but I will say that I did not identify with my peers, partially because of my introspectiveness, partially because of my family's financial poverty. When I came across that movie, although it wasn't the most, well, high-budgeted film I'd ever seen, it captured me, it brought me into it, and it reminded me of Skyway, at a time in which I was desperately missing my home in Illinois. We had recently moved to Minnesota and I didn't have many friends; this story reminded me that true friendship was better to be valued than superficial popularity.
Just tonight, I watched the remake of this story and found the impact upon me to be even greater. Tonight, I went home. Tonight, I was reminded of Skyway and the imagination of childhood.
While our visit to Skyway does not compare to the special effects of Terabithia, nonetheless, the setting is nothing if not striking in similarity. Having crossed creeks and fought our way through the Illinois wilderness in our very backyard, we entered a sort of clearing created by very high trees and very little ground vegetation. A perfect place, screened from the outside by the prairie and the trees; shaded inside creating a cool oasis from the heat of the Illinois summer. Some mysterious kids, long before us, had built a tree house, using fallen trees from the area, rejected wood from various constructions, and rope that wasn't of any use to anyone but an imaginative child. There was a fallen-tree ramp leading up to a makeshift rope bridge, leading to a grand tree house nestled between both the deadfall and the live oaks present in that place.
The first time I saw Terebithia, I knew I was looking at Skyway; and I knew the magic, I knew the characters, and I knew the friendship
Tonight I watched the 2007 version of Bridge to Terebithia , and I could not stop the tears.
I remembered Skyway, and I empathized with the unreality and denial that accompanies the revelation of death. I asked the same questions as Jessie...can God send such a child to Hell? Theologically I answered this question before the end of the movie yet was surprised to hear it addressed, if only in sentimental terms.
My friends, I have been to Terabithia, and it is every bit as beautiful and mysterious and adventuresome as portrayed in the movie. It is a version of Narnia and every other childhood fantasy-world come to life. It is a time of friendship, a reality of memory, and a location that reminds us that there is a place for childhood to remain present with us forever. Terebithia and Skyway also remind us that tragedy isn't so far away; that even in the world of imagination and fantasy, we bring a part of ourselves, we remain there, and we influence future generations.
I am still wiping the tears from my eyes as I write this; I am still looking upon Skyway, I am still absorbing Terebithia, and I see a link with Narnia. They all encompass tales not only of childhood adventure, but of real-life sacrifice for a greater goal, true friendship, and the value of imagination in a world that seeks to quash that which is not readily apparent.
We are all called to be like children, to believe like children, and to live and love like children. Let us forever be reminded of the child within us who sees the mystery and the potential of the forts built by unknown hands in the deep forests in our back yards; let us forever be reminded of the friendships built from adversity; let us forever be willing to believe that which is "impossible", for it is within impossibility that God is most gloriously manifested.