I am, as I write, in what my Mom calls “the youth of old age.” That is another way of saying “old” Sometimes when I see myself, that makes me sad and reminds me of what my Nana used to say when she herself in an unguarded moment in the mirror: “Who is that old person?”
And yet, thank God, I have read just enough to recover. I am old, but like all human am beautiful. You are beautiful, objectively, beautiful.
The flawed, but brilliant JM Barrie gives us the best image of enduring beauty over time into eternity in his Peter Pan. There Peter goes to a place where a lad need never grow up. He can play eternally, but the cost is that he is a lost boy. Peter feels this truth and so goes looking for a person who can give his endless play meaning. He needs someone who can turn his endless victories into an adventure, an odyssey, an epic. Peter needs a storyteller. He needs a mother.
Peter finds Wendy.
The trouble, naturally, is that the moment Wendy arrives Neverland changes.
Wendy makes the stakes of the adventure real. She insists that Peter be a father to the Lost Boys. This ruins the games but creates the epic. Captain Hook can attack something that matters and so can win. He can kidnap Wendy and so force Peter to respond.
Peter cannot grow up and continue to play. After he rescues Wendy, she chooses to go home. She returns to the change that allows growth. She submits to death and the possibility of heading into a true Neverland in the sure hope of Eternity. The Lost Boys follow her, but Peter does not.
Peter stays in Neverland.
Every so often, as boys do, he comes to visit her to help with Spring Cleaning.
As boys are want to do, he sometimes forgets to come to her. Peter comes one day and shakes the girl in the bed to come to “do Spring Cleaning.” She turns over and it is not Wendy! Instead, a woman by the fire turns to him. . . and is old.
Wendy Darling is old. Why? She has become a mother and Jane, her daughter, is the girl in the bed. Peter is shocked. Wendy has become “old.” Why? She has become greater than Peter can imagine, because she has become a mother. With eternity in her heart, Wendy has guaranteed the future of humanity. The silver marks of birth are beautiful and only a Peter Pan would miss this truth. The older has a beauty all her own that Peter can never have, because Peter will not grow up.
Peter Pan will never have a home, because unlike Odysseus he will never be a father. He will never love a Penelope who has found the future in their child. If you cannot be the mother of Jane or the father of Telemachus, then you cannot be fully human. To become a parent, to become less as the future generation becomes greater, is the natural state of humankind. In God’s order, some are spiritual parents and raise those who would otherwise be orphans. All of us are called to be parents, the fun Uncles, the mentors, those who teach, there is a role for all the grownups.
Most of all we need grownups who see beauty and know what to do. May that be me until I come to the land that is, kept in safety for all time.