Living in the world of make-believe

Newt’s Notes Column

(Published in the Grapevine Sun on March 30, 2003)


A grand battle scene happened outside of my apartment one evening recently.

I stepped out of my front door and watched as two combatants, legendary warriors by the looks of ‘em, had wooden swords in hand and were perilously dancing in playful fighting near the edge of a timber retaining wall. With air conditioning unit obstacles to dodge, just one misstep and either one or both of them would come crashing to the concrete sidewalk waiting below.

One warrior appeared to have the upper hand. Though his sword was no larger than his foe’s, he was making the advance, thrusting his sword and sending his rival backward. It was quite entertaining to see.

But there was something missing in this whole drama, something that no legendary duel of history was without. I looked around and saw no damsel in distress.

“How strange,” I thought. “Maybe this duel has to do with individual honor. Or maybe it’s family pride.” I didn’t know. Whatever the cause, it was worth fighting over.

1103437_59541988Even if the duelers only had wood boards for swords and T-shirts and shorts for armor. And even if the combatants were only 6- or 7-year-old friends living in a world of make-believe.

There was nothing of animosity between these neighbors of mine, only imitation. No doubt they had recently seen some cartoon or movie with gallant engagements and a good-versus-evil motif.

Whether they thought they had lightsabers, steel blades, or something else of fantasy, the boys were in the midst of a brief escape from a real world that may have seen them living in poverty, a broken home, or some other circumstance. A number of my neighbors live in such situations.

And making up this sword fight may have been one way to ease their home troubles and have a lot of fun in doing so. That’s one of the greatest things about escaping to the world of make-believe – it’s a breather for the mind.

It was good to see that there were some members of this young generation that weren’t inside, playing video games endlessly and talking about the latest cartoon trading card game. I know many kids who have done that for the majority of their lives.

These neighborhood kids were exercising their imaginations in a much more difficult, yet rewarding way – from creative memory. Memory set up the genre of their make-believe adventure that day – whether the setting was yesterday, the 1600’s, or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – and their creative minds made up the rest.

That is what it is like in the world of make-believe.

Rustling leaves become evil invaders, and trees become shelters to hide behind. Fallen branches become lightsabers, walking sticks, or magic staffs, and dining room chairs, blankets and pillows become a tent city.

Toys become alive, speaking to each other and executing storylines hastily made up in the minds of their owners. A baby doll becomes a real baby, given a name and personality. A stuffed animal becomes your best friend.

My friends and I used to utilize our imaginations endlessly. We would fill our daypacks with “supplies” (usually crackers, bottled soda, candy and the like) and go off exploring at the large Christian camp next door like we were on “National Geographic Explorer”.

There were all kinds of adventures along the way – wild animals (birds, mostly), hostile forces (cars passing by), and dangerous climbs and rappels. A young boy’s whole afternoon could easily be filled with such imaginations.

There was that time my friend and I got stuck behind enemy lines in World War II Europe, trying to hide from enemy troops while seeking safe places to hide. Then there was the time we barely escaped from a pack of vicious Dobermans (we heard some barking and ran).

But for some reason I can’t see kids doing such things these days. Why go outside and make-believe when you can get lost in a TV program or video game?

People these days (kids and adults) desire to be entertained. Everywhere they go they are entertained through no effort of their own. That must make it harder for them to think creatively on their own, apart from the source of that entertainment.

Yet, somehow, I don’t think the world of make-believe will ever die among young people around the world. The kids in my apartment complex are evidence of that. People have been blessed with the ability to dream, and our minds are the outlet given to express that ability. Creative imagination is inherent in all of mankind. It’s a wonderful gift of God.

And that gift finds itself manifested in adventurous hiking trips, toy battles and many other forms of harmless fun. Oh, and in an occasional wooden sword fight or two.

Kings and queens, dragons and knights, soldiers and explorers … the sky’s the limit when you’re living in the world of make-believe.

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