Bridges 8

The wisdom of children is not to be ignored.

My children had read the book Bridge to Terabithia before we took them to see the movie. I had not read the book, and therefore did not know the ending. As we walked into the theater, one of my kids said, “Oh, I think I’ll cry when X character dies.”

I dropped her hand and gaped at her. I sat through the entire movie on the edge of my sad seat waiting for the demise of the character. I never, ever, ever cry in movies. That one had me bawling like nothing else.

The story is lovely. Jesse and Leslie become friends and build an imaginary land that keeps them from all the turmoil of their every day lives. She teaches him to stop hiding his art and to see the beauty around him. She is one of those characters you remember, because you want to be her.

One Sunday, she attends church with Jesse’s family. The kids ride in the back of a pickup on a bright spring day. Leslie fires questions about God at Jesse and his little sister. She wonders if he believes the stories in the Bible. Jesse admits he doesn’t know. His sister, about 6, is shocked and says, “If you don’t believe, God will damn you to hell.”

It’s a cute line delivered by a cute kid for laughs and transition. But it’s more than that.

Leslie thinks about this for a moment, the wind flying through her hair, sun shining on the gorgeous children, then she says, “God doesn’t go around damning people to hell. He’s too busy making all of this.”

Of course this is simple theology, but it is enough to give us pause.

The youngest child there has the most “adult” response, and we laugh because she sounds like a tiny grownup, reciting her Sunday School line. The resolve in her eyes tells us she believes every word she’s saying. Even though, after the laughter fades, we shift in our seats, feeling the discomfort of a belief founded in fear.

Leslie’s response is polar and just as telling. They’re just kids, but already their lives are complicated by meanness, poverty, upheaval. They are managing the way kids do: by building bridges of friendship and asking each other those Very Scary Questions. They are not afraid to say what they think and to revel in the world around them, even when it is also peopled by very real threaths.

I don’t want to debate the truth of either girls’ statement. But I do think we could learn something from each of them. What if we built those same bridge of community? What if we gave ourselves permission to ask each other the Very Scary Questions?

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8 thoughts on “Bridges

  • Alise Wright

    I. Love. This. (I also loved the movie and thought it did the book justice. And while I teared up a bit, this one actually wiped out my husband, big time.)

    Seriously, I think you hit something important here, which is that we need to be okay if someone asks those scary questions. We don’t have to agree, but we also don’t have to be nasty in our disagreement. Too often I think we’re afraid that if people don’t know the depth of our disagreement, they might think we approve of their message.¬†

    I mean, not that *I’m* guilty of that…

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      There are so many directions we adults could take this short little bit of a complex story. You raise a point I’ve been trying to articulate in a way that is not preachy: The idea of assumed consent. For instance, in a group, when someone pronounced an opinion there is this awkward moment where others have to decide if they’re willing to share disagreement and in what manner. I dislike when across the board statements are made about “This is always wrong” or “This is always right.”

      Then there is the idea of preserving peace. Do we keep our mouths shut to keep things chill? I don’t know. I like how these kids just talk about stuff, without holding so fast to their ideas they can’t see the other side, or question eawch other.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    I love Bridge to Terabithia (though I haven’t seen the movie) and yes, I believe we can learn from these kids. Building bridges, asking scary questions – this is one place where real community forms.