By Tim Barlow
My hands clutch the standard issue AK-47 as I stealthily creep towards the corner of the house. They’re out there, the rats, Adam, Evan, and even Pat, probably others, now. The air is thick, and they know this won’t end well. Sweat drips from my brow, but my hands are steady. I reach the corner and instinctively raise the gun’s barrel up, getting my shoulder flush to the edge, never revealing my position. I tell myself to be quick, precise, and lethal, as if I had a choice – I was born that way. I take a deep breath, exhale, and turn. “Bang! Bang!” They’re already firing. I roll my tongue against the roof of my mouth, the motorboat noise, my AK’s vicious response. “I got you!” “No!” “Yes, I did” “No, missed” “Yea, you’re dead!” I screech at their backs. But they’re already in retreat. Behind them on the street, a local 3rd grader is riding his bike, he looks at us, makes a smirking face and shouts over his shoulder as he pedals away: “5th graders playing guns? Now I’ve seen everything!” And that was the day Santa Claus died. Mocked for playing pretend, by a kid two grades younger. I won’t be made a fool.
Truth be told, I went into re-watching Finding Neverland very reluctantly. I’ve always loved the story of Peter Pan – becoming a Lost Boy was the only thing I really wanted to be when I didn’t grow up. But this version, which I do remember loving in the theater, had been reduced in my own memories to an overly earnest, feel-good, yay-for-imagination, twee-fest, starring Johnny Depp, Hollywood’s top-billing eccentric. And yes, Finding Neverland is still all those things. But, while re-watching it, that’s not what I noticed. No, what I love about Finding Neverland is its powerful argument against cynicism.
I’ve been struck lately by people, adults, who exude joy, who express wonder and thankfulness towards the world around them. I’ve been in the habit of interpreting the world in 3 stages. Stage 1, blissful naivete aka happiness. Stage 2, exploration aka learning about all the shit. Stage 3, cynicism. Think of the bumper sticker: “If you aren’t angry, then you aren’t paying attention”. That’s this. You either don’t know the full story about something or you’re angry, scared, hopeless, and cynical. And this view does get its due in Finding Neverland: When told there were rumors as to the nature of his relationship with the young boys, Barrie responds, “You find a glimmer of happiness in this world and there’s always someone who wants to destroy it.” When his mother falls ill, young Peter says “All you’ll do, is have me make up stupid stories and pretend that things aren’t happening. I won’t, I’m not blind, I won’t be made a fool.”
But what also occurred to me is that it doesn’t end here. It isn’t a denial or ignorance that causes joy and wonder. It isn’t that Barrie and Peter aren’t aware of all that’s wrong with the world, they’re just fighting to move past it, and recognize all that’s left to cause joy. And I envy this. Rumor, scandal, jealousy, illness, needing to grow up before our time, even death, ending on cynicism leaves me prepared for the world’s worst, but it also means always running from the ticking crocodile. But coming to a place of accepting that there is an ugly bad without ceding the joy along with it, disarms cynicism. And recognizing that the opportunity is there, is the first step: where I could invite the 3rd grader to join in on the pretend battle, or the very least, shoot him with my AK-47 and rejoin the front. Or to a place where I can accept a movie’s earnestness without writing it off. And eventually to a place where even death is nothing more than “an awfully big adventure.”