Finding Neverland and the Paradox of Growing (Up)

There’s a scene, or more precisely, a musical number, in the play Finding Neverland that captures the paradox of life perfectly—if you believe such things can happen. In the scene, the playwright J.M. Barrie and the boy Peter are singing a song called “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.”

The play is based on the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. While it’s not clear how much of the play is fact, the idea is that Barrie befriended four brothers and their mom in the park while he was trying to come up with a fresh new idea for a play. The children’s father had recently died, and one of the brothers, Peter, had lost his innocence and “grown up too fast.” Barrie, on the other hand, is an adult but refuses to grow up.

In the scene I think is the play’s defining moment, Barrie is singing about flying above the clouds to cope with the pain of life: “When your feet don’t touch the earth, you can’t feel the things that hurt,” he croons.

At the same time, the boy insists his feet need to be kept on the ground and that living in a fantasy world is a mind trick that won’t do any good. “With my feet on solid ground, I can face the things that hurt,” young Peter sings.

The man singing as if he were a child and the boy singing as if he were a man is what makes this moment so powerful. But the important message is the paradox and how we must learn to live in it. We can’t dwell on the pain of life, but at the same time, we need to face our challenges. It’s how we grow.

As children, we want to grow up and do our own thing. Eventually, we become adults, and many of us find we’re no longer able to dream, imagine, or feel the joy of simply being alive that we had as children. And we think: “I’ve become too serious, too responsible, too much like the person I thought I was supposed to be. This isn’t good.” And perhaps there’s nothing sadder than seeing a child get to this point too soon.

That we need to maintain our ability to dream, believe and fantasize is a powerful and important message, but it can also be a dangerous one if we don’t learn to live in the paradox. The solution to pain and challenge is not to go back to being a child. We’re not meant to be children forever, and moving from childhood to adulthood means we have to let go of some childish things. The problem is we often let go of too much.

There’s another scene in the play when the characters are wondering if they’ve forgotten how to play. Does this mean they should be playing the way they did as children? Maybe you’ve met adults who refuse to “grow up” in any sense of the word.

Yes, children know how to have fun and dream and be whatever they want to be (at least in their own imaginations). And yes, there is value in this, but children are also dependent on others and often haven’t learned to be part of a community.

I think we’re children before we’re adults so we can learn how to give back when we come of age. It may not be politically or socially correct to say so, but there’s a downside to being a child.

While we’re not meant to be children forever, I think we are meant to maintain some of our child-like nature—and that’s the paradox. We need to hold on to the ability to escape into dreams and fantasies and stories, even as we acknowledge that none of these things can solve our problems and take away the pain of living. We need to keep some child-like qualities simply because they get us through the harsher realities of being “grown up.” We need to grow without growing up so much that we lose our connection to the magic of being a child.

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Maria Kuzmiak, M.A. is a health and well-being writer with a background in nutrition, psychology and education and a passion for yoga. She has written hundreds of articles, blogs and newsletters for clients in health-related fields, particularly those specializing in yoga, natural medicine, nutrition, and spiritual health and healing. Maria has also worked as a nutritionist, teacher and technical editor. Learn more about her writing at www.wellbeingwriter.net.

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