By Lorraine V. Murray, Commentary | Published May 28, 2020
How delighted I was to receive a special invitation to Fort Snowy, an imaginary place created by children.
I was on a trip with my cousins, who drove up from Florida with their grandchildren, Brody and Aubree. After they picked me up, we drove four hours to a town in North Carolina, where two more of their grandchildren live.
Snowy accompanied us on the trip. He is a somewhat bedraggled, but much loved, stuffed bear given to Brody by his mother. It was a peaceful journey, except for a few moments when the bear skirmished a bit with a giraffe belonging to Aubree.
At the North Carolina home, entries into the enchanted land of children were abundant. One portal was the backyard, where the Florida children joined their cousins, Alexis and Seth, in transforming branches into swords.
One evening, Brody stopped by my room and invited me to a place called Fort Snowy. He explained that only two children—and none of the adults—knew about this place, which made me briefly wonder whether he realized I was an adult.
If he wasn’t aware of this, I see it as a compliment, because I sometimes get tired of the responsibilities and seriousness of the grown-up world.
In fact, I can readily relate to a letter C.S. Lewis wrote to a child: “I don’t think age matters so much as people think. Parts of me are still 12 and I think other parts were already 50 when I was 12.”
The secret fort reminded me of the wardrobe Lewis created in his tales, which was a portal into the enchanted world of Narnia. There, the children met talking animals such as the big-hearted lion Aslan, the one true king of Narnia, who like Jesus died and came back to life.
It was all quite hush-hush as I was led to the fort, which was tucked away in a closet. Inside, the children had rigged up their version of strobe lights, which provided a dramatic backdrop for what came next.
I was not at all surprised to discover Snowy was a decent dancer, who also could sing in a rather high-pitched, squeaky voice. Nor was I surprised when I found myself dancing and singing too.
I thought back to my own childhood, when there was one stuffed animal that completely stole my heart. He was a Pluto dog, whom I named Poppa, although I can’t recall why. He saw me through high school, college and graduate school—and still lives with me today.
As a child, I didn’t make a distinction between the stuffed dog and my real pets, who were turtles and parakeets. Nor did I clearly distinguish the everyday world from the imaginary one my sister and I created in the backyard.
Alternative worlds are important for children, because they convey the message that this earth with its bug bites and bullies, tears and tantrums, illnesses and injuries is not the only place.
Instead, there is another realm called heaven, where angels reside and animals can talk, and we can walk through the gardens with God. The way into this world isn’t through a wardrobe or fort, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who can become king of our hearts.
Artwork is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Lorraine’s latest project was writing a booklet to accompany Bishop Barron’s video on Flannery O’Connor’s life and works. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org