Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Finding My Neverland

As a child I believed in magical lands where princes and princesses lived in fairytale castles. I believed in dragons and knights, and in wizards and fairies; Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. My child’s mind was open to every possibility and my imagination and dreams took me to wonderful places, creating memories I would sometimes revisit.

One memory that remains strong is the rainy winter Sundays I spent with my father in front of an open fire. It was the one day of the week mum, he and I were together as a family, and I looked forward to it eagerly. I would curl up on the sofa in the living room, while dad sat in his armchair next to me, and together we would watch a soccer or rugby game on TV. Mum would be in the kitchen preparing our Sunday roast; the aroma wafting through the house causing our stomachs to rumble in anticipation.

After the game and without fail, a Disney movie would come on, and while I lost myself in the world of Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White etc, my father would slip into a comfortable doze, softly snoring at my side. It’s a memory of warmth; the smell of fire, rain and roasting meat mixed with the comforting sounds of my family life, and escape into a world of imagination inspired by the ageless stories of magic and wonder. This was a world where time stood still and I never grew old. I wanted everyday to be a Sunday.

But age is something none of us can escape from, and I found myself growing into adulthood. Each year that passed the child within me grew more silent, and the time for play, imagination and dreams became memories belonging to another time as the responsibilities and realities of life came a calling.

There were times though when I felt the child stir. The NeverEnding Story not only became my daughter’s favorite movie, but mine also, and C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia along with J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter, drew me back into the world of magic and fantasy for a time. But it was a man who finally awoke the sleeping child.

When I learned that Michael had bought a ranch and was creating a magical kingdom called Neverland, there was no other place in the world where I wanted to be. The mere concept of building a wonderland for children of all ages, so they could experience the simple joys of play and make-believe inspired me to dream again. I so wanted to go there and take my children, but it was not to be at that time. This past June, I got my wish when I flew to California for the first anniversary of Michael’s passing. The pain of Forest Lawn was not something I had expected to feel so intensely, so it was with relief, excitement and a certain amount of expectation that I journeyed to Neverland.

I knew that the glory that once was this place was no more, but in my imagination I could see the gilded gates opening, and there in the midst of his playground was Michael, running free with a string of little darlings close on his heels. I smiled inwardly as I placed myself in the picture my mind presented, running by Michael’s side, out of breath and wild with excitement. My disappointment came when I reached the main entrance and found I could go no further. So close I was, yet so far.

All of us there felt it; the urge to break through the barriers, and walk the road to Neverland each carrying our own special dreams of this golden land. Instead we hovered in front of the gate, wide-eyed with hope that a relenting heart would welcome us in; pacing back and forth in restless motion. We stood before the wall of love and wrote our names and messages. We talked amongst ourselves and took pictures, but our eyes never strayed far from the gate and what lay beyond.

There is a large tree that stands almost as a sentinel to the entrance of the driveway. It reminded me of the picture’s I had seen of Michael’s Giving Tree. Its wide branches offered cool shade and a knowledge that Michael had driven past it numerous times. I stood beneath it for awhile, soaking up the energy that seemed to radiate from this place; listening to the quiet conversations around me and the rustling of leaves above. I ran my hand over the bark and wondered if at any time Michael had done the same thing.

A short distance from the tree is a low wooden fence which surrounds the property. It’s low enough to climb over with ease and temptation drew me to it, but I couldn’t bring myself to cross it without invitation, and none was forthcoming. Instead, I leaned against it and gazed wistfully at the rolling hills that hid the magical city from view. I fancied I heard the sounds of children’s laughter and the sharp, piercing whistle of a steam train carrying its precious cargo of smiling and eager faces on a journey of wonder. I ached for what had been, and for the magician who had cast his spell on all our hearts. I also ached for all the lost chances; the dreams and memories that had slept within me for too long.

Michael’s Neverland had never been mine to experience, at least not the physical part of it. I say that because I became aware of the lingering spirit that still clung to this place. Here there had been much love and happiness and laughter, and while some had tried to taint it with ugliness, joyous electricity sparked through the air. Hidden behind a veil of consciousness, Neverland still existed. It lay in the very soil of this land, planted by the hundreds of lives Michael had touched. The child in me leapt in response to this understanding, and finally awoke from its long slumber bringing with it all the memories and dreams from long ago.

I realized that Neverland was merely a name given to an ideal. Within all of us, lives that child from our past. A child who wants to break free and run and play and laugh. I had let mine sleep, and I had lost the innocence; the acceptance and openness to be able to believe in things without fear or reproach. My child had once dreamed big dreams. It had believed in the mystery, fantasy and magic of life, and it now yearned to return to its own Neverland that it had built so long ago.

Michael knew and understood all these things. He had never had a chance to live as a child in the magical world of children, but he had carried the ideal inside him into adulthood. It was then that he built his dream, as much for him as for the children who visited there. For a time, he felt and experienced the joys of youthful pleasures. He laughed, he played, he ran free, and he imagined and dreamed big dreams. He found his Neverland, and through him, I had found mine again.

Magical Child: Part 1
Once there was a child and he was free
Deep inside, he felt the laughter
The mirth and play of nature's glee
He was not troubled by thoughts of hereafter
Beauty, love was all he'd see
He knew his power was the power of God
He was so sure, they considered him odd
This power of innocence, of compassion, of light
Threatened the priests and created a fright
In endless ways they sought to dismantle
This mysterious force which they could not handle
In endless ways they tried to destroy
His simple trust, his boundless joy
His invincible armor was a shield of bliss
Nothing could touch it, no venom, no hiss
The child remained in a state of grace
He wasn't confined in time or place
In Technicolor dreams, he frolicked and played
While acting his part, in Eternity he stayed
Soothsayers came and fortunes were told
Some were vehement, others were bold
In denouncing this child, this perplexing creature
With the rest of the world he shared no feature
Is he real? He is so strange
His unpredictable nature knows no range
He puzzles us so, is he straight?
What's his destiny? What's his fate?
And while they whispered and conspired
Through endless rumors to get him tired
To kill his wonder, trample him near
Burn his courage, fuel his fear
The child remained just simple, sincere
All he wanted was the mountain high
Color the clouds, paint the sky
Beyond these boundaries, he wanted to fly
In nature's scheme, never to die
Don't stop this child, he's the father of man
Don't cross his way, he's part of the plan
I am that Child, but so are you
You've just forgotten, just lost the clue
Inside your heart sits a Seer
Between his thoughts, he can hear
A melody simple but wondrously clear
The music of life, so precious, so dear
If you could for one moment know
This spark of creation, this exquisite glow
You would come and dance with me
Kindle this fire so we could see
All the children of the Earth
Weave their magic and give new birth
To a world of freedom with no pain
A world of joy, much more sane
Deep inside, you know it's true
Just find that child, it's hiding in you.

Magical Child: Part 2
Magical child once felt a twinge
A faint recollection, a memory unhinged
In the colors, the forms, the hue
There seemed a mystery with a subtle clue
Behind the wind, the storm, the gale
Within the shroud, beyond the veil
Hidden from view in a wondrous pattern
There seemed a force that he could not fathom
Its music and cadence were playful and sweet
He danced in bliss to its throbbing beat
He did not mind either cold or heat
On the mountain high was his royal seat
Strangers came and scorned his joy
With ridicule and banter they tried to destroy
What in their minds was a skillful play
With cruel darts they tried to plunder
To suffocate and strangle his innocent wonder
Fighting hard, despite their blunder
Again and again to steal his thunder
Despite their attacks, they could not break
With all their barbs they could not take
God's gift of love, which they could not fake
Not knowing his strength or what he sought to seek
They complained aloud and called him a freak
But the mysterious force just kept its hold
Magical child grew brave and bold
Diving deep into his soul
In exquisite ecstasy he discovered his role
In his Self was infinite scope
This mysterious force was mankind's hope
Piercing through that mask of Being
In that silence beyond all seeing
Was a field with a different story
A field of power, of awesome glory
With other children, if unfurled
Its tidal wave would change the world
Magical child was ready to bow
Sow the seed, pick up the plough
With effortless ease, without a sigh
Without a tear, without a cry
With silent perfection
Under God's direction
To sing together as one race
Stem the tide, transform this place
Magical children, don't worry how
Don't delay, this moment's now.

From Dancing the Dream, by Michael Jackson

Thank you, Michael, for being my Peter Pan.

© Valmai Owens



© Valmai Owens

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