Friday, December 7, 2012

Pure Imagination

by Gregory Colbert, via

My cousin, Eli, told me a story once about a pet elephant he kept in his jacket pocket. The elephant was no taller than his thumb. He tried taking this elephant onto an airplane, which was fine until he got onto the plane and at 32,000 feet, the elephant stealthily climbed out of his jacket pocket and started exploring the plane, right over everyone's bags and wadded-up coats. It was an hour before my cousin realized his pet elephant was gone, and had to figure out a way to find him without alerting the entire plane. He didn't want his elephant to get crushed or scared and run off and hide, he'd told me. He got up from his seat by the airplane window and walked to the front of the plane towards the cockpit, turned around and dropped a quarter down the long aisle. He fell to his knees, apologized, and started looking for his quarter -- actually, his pet elephant. I never found out if my cousin had found his elephant, because my mom said dinner was ready.

Eli was five when he told me this story. Not with the same, advanced vocabulary, but the plot went just like that. I was 17, in the middle of writing the play for a high school choir performance, and I remember thinking:

I've never in my conscious life come up with anything remotely as mesmerizing as this.

This wasn't because what he'd said was overly imaginative, but rather it was the ease with which he told the story. It was all about delivery. It wasn't a story to him; it had actually happened, yet I could see the cogs working behind his eyes -- never faltering, stopping only for a moment to think when I'd ask him what happened next. I stared at him like he was an amoeba growing legs. I looked at his mother, my Aunt Julie, and silently pleaded with her to give me some explanation. Was this a story he'd read? Had he seen a miniature elephant on TV? She shook her head, simply. No idea, she said with her eyes.

I'm not very good with kids, and I find myself bored with them easily. I don't like playing or pretending, and I certainly don't like to stop what I'm doing and go out of my way to entertain them...

On the other hand, I love listening to them. Their imaginations fascinate me, and the way they see the world is exquisite. I love asking questions and finding out more. Their lack of filters and their self-assuredness means there is no cap on what they can come up with. They don't concern themselves with what other people will think, or whether their stories and ideas will stand up to someone else's.

It's sad that most kids lose that freedom. I certainly did, that is, assuming I ever had it. I'd like to think I did, and that it's still inside me somewhere, locked away. I'm in such awe of adults to seem to have maintained that level of imagination and confidence. That's the key, I think.

My cousin is 14 now, and I told him this story over Thanksgiving dinner. He, of course, doesn't remember it, and is at that age now where rolling your eyes at everything is the jammiest of jams. He thought it was silly.

1 comment:

  1. So interesting, I don't remember that story. But I DO remember you mentioning it to him recently and he seemed so "Uh... that's weird." Too bad. But try mentioning it again to him in 5 years and see how he feels. Maybe he'll be a little more for it. =)