I saw this picture of my nephew (great nephew actually) and knew at once it was special. I tagged it, shared it, emailed it, and called family members.
I told my aunt I like the picture and she took it to another level. She responded, “I don’t just like the picture; I need this picture.” She emphasized the word “need.” She was saying it is more than just a cute picture.
I agreed that we need the picture, but only on an intuitive level. I could not put into words why she was right. So I’ve been thinking ever since about why we need such pictures.
Before I share my thoughts, study the picture. Enlarge it on your screen, put your hand under your chin, and examine it the way a patron of the arts would appreciate a painting in the Louvre. Reflect on the details:
- Elmo slippers. This means somewhere in my nephew’s three year old life he learned about Elmo. Picture it. He and his mom and dad laughed together about Elmo. Now he is wearing the slippers, walking the walk.
- A Thomas the Train sleeping bag. See Elmo.
- A beanbag chair. Along with Silly Putty, beanbag chairs are one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. My nephew is living the life.
- A t-shirt that references Coney Island. My nephew has no idea what Coney Island is. He, doubtless, assumes that it is a magical place where all the raindrops are candy bars and gum drops and kids stand outside with their mouths open wide. It wouldn’t cross his mind that the world is not full of such places.
- Sweats. See beanbag chair.
- His feet are propped on a stack of adventure; his life is full of books about Cheerios and Winnie the Pooh. If you say the word, “Tigger,” to him, he laughs. Steam shovels and goblins and fairy tales, as C.S. Lewis said, “Literature enlarges our being.” The quote is worth reading.
Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic, or merely piquant. Literature gives the entree to them all . . . In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see . .
- Naturally, in the picture a good sustaining book is being read. Having been read to, he is now a reader. I’ll bet you $100 (but I don’t bet) that he has memorized the book. For him, it is alive and he is in the middle of that world.
- Not even his cookie is distracting him. The cookie would appear to be some sort of chocolate glazed wafer.
- A “don’t get scared in the dark and don’t electrocute yourself night light device” in the background. Adventure in books is one thing. But a guy can’t be too careful in the dark where the wild things growl.
- Only the most focused art critic will notice the edge of red underwear between his t-shirt and sweats. You have to enlarge the picture to see them. It can be reasonably assumed that they feature a super hero theme. I’m guessing Superman.
How do you assemble so many props for one child? What did it look like for him to create this setup? No stage crew ever went to more work. Did he put it all up at once, or did he gradually add elements (like the stack of books under his feet)? Questions worth pondering.
Then there is the little boy. I’ve argued previously that children are the most beautiful thing in the world. This picture alone makes the case. There he is – - focused – - enjoying the cookie, but not distracted by it, you understand. There is not one ounce of his body that is uncomfortable. It’s how every little boy on earth ought to use up an afternoon.
The reason we need this picture is because it reminds us that we live in a world where true beauty is both possible and real. For all the ugliness that life brings, there are still little boys, eating cookies, looking at books, dreaming about bulldozers and cheerios and Winnie the Pooh. Tigger is possible. Tigger is real.
If you look at this picture of this little boy and don’t agree that it is beautiful then I don’t think I can explain it to you. The whole post won’t make any sense. But if you see the loveliness of it, then you should be reminded that we live in a world where such pictures are possible and real. There really are beautiful children dreaming of beautiful places.
Any number of questions follow:
- Who is the source of such beauty? How do we explain it? Can anyone believe that such a little boy is just a collection of cells, a mass of meat? Or is there a Creator who can be known?
- What is the appropriate response to such beauty? I could write a book about the answer to this question, but the two word answer to the question is, “true worship.” When we see such a picture, we should thank God, not just with our words, but with our lives.
- Do pictures like this one help our souls in the face of pain that is beyond our comprehension? My brother-in-law, the little boy’s grandfather, died as a young man in an accident. I’ll never understand it. Can’t. My mind cannot do the sums on such pain, nor can yours. Looking at this picture does not solve the problem – - but it does mean something. Eleven years after the accident, here is this little boy, eating his cookie, reading his book, comfortable. He loves and is loved far more than he knows. We need his picture.