Let’s start at the beginning. As any good child raised in a Christian home can attest, the beginning of our human existence begins with Adam and Eve, be it mythology or truth. They are naked and without blame. An unnamed and untouched world awaits them and they can do no wrong but one: they must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. With no history behind them and the vastness of future ahead, they are without shame. Shame… this word, as a child, was always what stuck with me. They had nothing to be ashamed of. Innocence had its blessings.
The story goes that one day Eve is walking in the garden and the devil, in snake form, tempts her with the fruit of the forbidden tree. She eats of it and then shares it with Adam and God finds out and searches for them. Like any good father that knows their children has done wrong, he gives them the chance to come clean. When they finally come forward they are hiding their nakedness. No matter what this story is trying to tell us or symbolizes of our early existence, the loss of their innocence stays with me. There is shame in the innocence they once had and the realization that they were once so naïve.
When I was younger my family use to go camping a lot and one place was always Eden: Bay view. This campground on the North West coast of America was my adventure into the world outside Christendom. Here, in the big open field surrounded by campsites I would learn the lesson of a world foreign to my upbringing, here would begin my fall from grace. Here children cursed and talked in hushed voice about the things we overheard our parents say. The knowledge of good and evil hung heavy from these limbs. But, in the beginning, my innocence held me back. In the beginning, these new words didn't need to become part of my diet. In my world, the problems and conversations of parents were akin to a higher power which did not concern me. My innocence was all encompassing.
To describe myself at this point would be to say I had no grasp of the judgement of others. I was still in that eager learning period where my opinions were still protected by a child’s mind. I was malleable but had created a comfortable view of how the world around me worked. It is not till we grow old that we feel our lives are incomplete. I could act in this world as one without a character picked out for it. I was free to be what I wanted and, for the most part, lived in the moment as most small children do.
This memory is one of my earliest. Is so clear to me in my life I feel I can touch it, though, at the time, I did not know how to interpret it. This was the moment where I became ashamed and aware of judgement. This was my fall from grace.
We were all playing in the field and I began to laugh. I cannot remember what it was that had made me laugh but it had been something I was thinking about. While all the other kids played on, I stopped and laughed harder and harder. I think I even forgot about what I was laughing about but the laughter had caught me and I reveled in it. I fell on the field and laughed. The other kids must have noticed and made their way over to me. I can remember looking up with all their faces looking down on me. My brother’s face was there along with the faces of other children. I remember not caring and simply laughing but then suddenly one of them told me to stop. They asked my brother why I was laughing and he said he didn't know. They began to kick me and became angry. I suddenly realized that something I was doing was wrong. Before this moment, their opinions of me didn’t matter. In fact, the idea that people had opinions of one another was foreign. I realized that what I did and what I said mattered to others and changed how they saw and treated me. I had now realized that I could be judged. I had now eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I was ashamed of my innocence. I was ashamed that I hadn't cared what others thought of me. I ran back to the trailer that we had borrowed from our grandparents and cried alone, hiding this shame from my parents.
Though I know the statement is bold, I believe this was the moment that defined how relationships in my life worked. Every word I said, every move I made, was not mine but someone else’s to take. I was not defined by myself but by the others around me. I wanted to be loved and so I created my character to the world set forth by what it wanted. I learned not to laugh out loud at things I thought were funny but to think of what others would find funny. Still, to this day, I sometimes find it difficult to truly laugh in public. I learned self-control and fitting the mold was what they all wanted. I internalized. I constantly worried how others perceived me. My innocence was gone; my fall from grace, complete.
Now, as I sit here, I feel the judgement of the world surrounding me but I have learned to live within it and have begun to laugh at it. I am starting not to care. Still, I have my moments where I hold back and follow the inertia of the group but they are less frequent. The innocence and wonder I once had now does not seem so buried or hidden behind the leaves of shame. I wish I could talk to myself and tell him to not care and go on living in that world. I find myself trying to draw out that younger self in me, like God trying to find out where Adam and Eve are. I am beginning to realize that paradise is not lost but simply hiding. For me the story of Adam and eve is the story of what all of us face at one point or another, though many may not remember it. It is the loss of our childhood and the discovery of a world full of the views of others. But who, I ask, who are the ones we lift up and praise? The ones with the curiosity and wonder of children; the ones who break the mold and bare all to be judged. They are the ones that define our culture. Strangely, like the fruit on the tree, we are given a choice. Do we choose to be defined by the world around us or to define the world? Luckily, unlike the story where Adam and Eve are cast out of paradise, we can, if we have the courage, re-enter that world of wonder; a paradise that is not defined by others but by what we want it to be.