Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Silver Drop of Innocence

He has an XBox and a Wii. He has a Nintendo DS. He plays games on my iPhone. Like many kids his age, he loves Mario Brothers, those plucky plumbers who were born in my era, originally jumping monkey-rolled barrels and climbing ladders in a free-standing video game in an arcade. Despite his constant access to Mario and the mustachioed chap's rangy, green-clad brother, Luigi, my younger son was determined to find a way to play Mario Brothers on the computer. I'm not quite sure why, but it's been very important to him.

So, we sat together and I looked. I found lots of places to play, but none that I was willing to expose my computer to, for fear of viruses which might result from the downloads and restarts the sites required. I explained this to the little guy, arm around his shoulder as he sat on my knee. I told him: "There are bad people out there who put something called viruses into computers. If we get a bad one, you might never be able to play games on the computer again. Would that be good?" "No," he said, wiping away tears. "But Dad, couldn't you just check to see if they are good?" I hugged him and explained that it doesn't work so easily.

How many more times will I have to explain this to him about all of the in things life, I wonder . . .

All the while, his older brother, nine -- dirt on his knees and grass clinging to his shirt from diving at self-served pop-ups in fictional World Series games on the front lawn -- stood behind us smacking a baseball into his thoroughly-weathered Mizuno, watching. (He loves video games, too, but not with the deep devotion of the younger lad.)

The next day, I came home and saw my older, baseball-loving boy sitting at the computer, Google screen open. Slowly, carefully, he picked out letters on the keyboard and I watched him type in his search: "M-a-r-i-o-B-r-o-t-h-e-r-s g-a-m-e-s-t-h-a-t-a-r-e-g-o-o-d-f-o-r-y-o-u-r-c-o-m-p-u-t-e-r."

I came up behind him and squeezed him so hard that he might never be able to salsa dance again. I hid the tears welling in my eyes and walked upstairs to change into my play clothes. I lay on my bed, sorting through thoughts: How innocence lives so naturally, so comfortably, so softly, like gossamer, new-born birds in the hearts of little boys and girls; how proud I was of my son for laboring in the strange land of QWERTY in order to make his little brother happy.

God knows, he will have to find out someday that "one may smile and smile and be a villain" -- that Googling "games that are good for your computer" is not a fool-proof technique for online safety research.

But if we can hold a little of that innocence in our hearts . . . I know poets have written about this for centuries . . . if we can hold a little of that innocence in our hearts, what plagues of the soul would we be able to crush?

I believe one silvery drop of that innocence in a black, cancerous ocean can turn it all into a blue, phosphorescent Carribean sea. I believe it is not foolish to seek answers in the hearts of our children. I believe there was more kindness and love in the typing fingers of a playground-dirty little boy than many of us are likely to see in a lifetime.

Call me corny. I'll thank you heartily.

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