Innocent and Orphan – two halves of a whole

We pulled into Vancouver harbor, angling for the dock beside the soaring Pan Pacific hotel.

Full from our final elegant breakfast in the grand dining hall, leaving behind those crisp white napkins and far too many utensils, we watched with some regret the process of leaving the fairy tale behind as the ship, with an agonizing slowness, crept closer to the dock. It heralded our return, soon enough, to the real world.

From our veranda on the seventh deck, we looked back at eager faces, Nikons and Canons and cell phones clicking as they gazed — many obviously awestruck — at this behemoth of a ship, built to house some 2,500 passengers in a comfort and luxury befitting near royalty, or at least those of us masquerading as such for a week. It was something they would ascend to within a few hours.

What I saw in their eyes was a willingness to marvel, to gawk, to let loose of any faux sophistication and worldliness. And I do love that. You can sense it, if they’re first-timers at cruising and sometimes even if they’re old hats — the awe and wonder at the size of this ship, the place they’ll call home for a week, wondering what’s in store, how elegant the furnishings may be, and how sweet the service. There’s an innocence and an eagerness that emanates, and that’s how it should be. There’s time enough in life to posture, to adopt a wizened, maybe even cynical, worldliness. By God, it feels good to drop the jaw and stare, to become the tourist, accidental or not.

Indulgence flooded my awareness, and I realized with something like dismay that what I was feeling was, in fact, that cynical “cool”-ness. Huh. Already it felt a little as though we had fallen out of favor, something merely to be ushered as quickly as possible down the ramp so new, fresh-faced passengers might be welcomed on. Only a week before I was the fresh-faced newbie. I couldn’t help feeling a little jaded, as though I might be in need of a trim and some pressed clothing.

Looking back now, I know what was at work there.

Of all the Jungian archetypes at work in us, it’s the Innocent and Orphan I saw that morning in Vancouver. It’s the innocent who lives in all beginnings, in all launchings of new endeavors. It’s the innocent who allows hope to surge and wonder to emerge, whether we’re brand new beings or centenarians or something in between. It’s the innocent who fosters our ability to believe in fairy-tale endings and the goodness of people and allows us to believe all’s well with our world.

And it was the orphan who stared back at me in the mirror as I made one more check for misplaced belongings. The orphan who knows the world is a real and not always friendly place, but who at his best learns how to be resilient and to have empathy. At his worst, the Orphan skewers the world with complaint, plays the hip cynic and masters the art of the victim.

I recognize the Innocent from childhood memories, and here’s one for you: It’s Friday night, late by kid standards but probably no later than 8. Wafting up from the basement is a comforting murmur, punctuated every once in a while by the slap of poker chips, a bark of laughter, the clink of ice in a glass, the satisfying zip of cards riffled through deft fingers.

My dad’s weekly poker game. There, at the top of the stairs, sits the innocent, captivated by the feeling of security emanating from these men whose friendships were strong and whose pleasure in the world seemed good, and right, and hopeful. Oh, I mainlined that essence. When poker reined on Friday nights, I crawled into bed secure, warm, and as sure as only the innocent can be that all was right with the world.

Looking back, I know that surely those men had worries and woes and had likely seen their share of dashed hopes and half realized dreams that brought gritty reality into focus. But they also knew of hope and laughter, of trust and optimism, even if it was only the optimism that brought them together with their pennies in hopes of taking home far more — although we all knew it was for the pleasure of friendship. I saw it all through the eyes of an innocent.

For those of us who find it almost easier these days to channel the orphan — smiling indulgently at wide-eyed newbies or perhaps rolling our eyes at their naivete, there’s still, if we just allow it room, a sense of the innocent coiled expectantly inside the outer shell of our orphans. Though I may feel the pull of being cool and knowledgeable and sophisticated, I know it’s that very sense of awe and enjoyment and wonder that makes life interesting, fresh, and so worth living.

And there is the paradox. The innocent needs the orphan as much as the orphan needs the innocent. They form a two-headed coin, a dichotomy that is infinitely poorer without each half, an incomplete yin without the yang to complete its circle. Toss it to see what comes up. Will it be the innocent who takes life at face value, filled with hope and trust? Or the orphan, whose realism and resilience give real meaning to solving problems and preparing for the inevitable difficulties that will arise?

The danger, of course, is in allowing one or the other to have his way with us, to be eternally the Pollyanna with a sometimes woefully inadequate sense of reality and the belief that every cloud has its silver lining … or the cynical, jaded Orphan so often enmeshed in gritty reality and believing that, above all else, it pays to be careful.

We find orphans and innocents wherever we look, in adults as well as in children. Consider the innocence of Forrest Gump, most Disney princesses, the young Bambi. And then call up the orphan outlook of The Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, even Cinderella. Sometimes we see it in the same person — Carl Fredricksen in the movie, “Up,” whose youthful innocence gives way to an overwhelming orphan outlook with age but who, in the end, finds the joyful balance of the two.

If we’re lucky like Carl, we also find them balancing within us. We hold the innocent’s optimism and temper it with the orphan’s realism. We honor the orphan’s caution yet value the innocent’s openness to experience.

Two halves that make us whole.

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