Of all the 36 alternatives, running away is the best. – Chinese proverb
We all have ran away from something, someone, or some place at some point in our lives, and the reasons for “running away” and the tales of our “escape” could take as many shades and hues as the colors spun on a tapestry.
This blog post is inspired by a 40-something friend of mine who now lives with her parents after years of living alone. Lately, she confided to me that she has secretly packed a get-away bag for those times when she could no longer take what’s going on in the house.
Whether young or old, the urge or dilemma to run away seems not to be age-bound or time-bound. Having a get-away bag ready for such escape is truly a wise strategy. I told my friend that running away of this sort could be healthy, a kind of retreat to get a new perspective, and a catalyst for change, whatever form that may take. I also revealed that I too own a get-away bag that’s stashed in the trunk of my car, packed with travel essentials for my unplanned, spontaneous overnight escapades. When I was single and living alone, my get-away bag had been witness to many capers, the ones that I took to escape from routine or boredom, to leave the ordinary in search of the extraordinary in my life, or just for the plain excuse of escaping. Since I got married, my get-away bag has been gathering dust but it’s still in my car, for those just-in-case moments. After all, I’m a girl scout at heart, and I live by the motto, “Be prepared.”
the wisdom of children’s books and stories
After giggling over our “get-away” bags with childlike amusement, I decided to re-read the story of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid’s running away adventure in the beloved children’s book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler penned by E. L. Konigsburg (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c 1967). I first read the book when I was still morphing into adulthood, but no longer as young as the book’s characters. I told my 40-something friend I am giving her a copy of that book as a gift and a reminder to be childlike and adventurous in the ways of the world.
I so love to re-read children’s books and read the ones that I didn’t get to read as a child, and ruminate in the wisdom they contain. If I understood the book’s message when I was a child, I would get a sense of another flavor as I re-read them as an adult, depending on where I am in my journey in life.
We all get caught up in the pressure cooker that seems to describe the days of our lives that we forget the simple things that made our hearts flutter when we were young. Such as the character in our favorite book, the one we lived and breathed with while reading under the bed covers with a flashlight, or the one we couldn’t part with until we learned what happened to her or him next, so much so that we had to give up precious recess time in favor of reading. As Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling once said, “the stories we love best do live with us forever.”
As a young reader, I identified with Claudia Kincaid, a twelve-year old straight-A sixth grader and “English grammar police” who feels unappreciated at home. She recruits her younger brother, Jamie, to run away with her because Jamie is good with money and has a stash of saved money, a miser at best in contrast to her love for comfort and penchant for spending on such comforts. Like her, I also love to go to art museums and elegant settings. As an older reader, I recognize the corporate president Claudia in the making, her executive ability to recognize and use talents and resources to achieve an end.
Claudia is also an astute planner. She planned their get-away to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, where they can be run-aways settled in a comfortable setting, a place of elegance and importance. Their get-away bags were a result of careful planning too. If I were to run away from home at that age, as she and Jamie had done, I would have planned the escapade as organized and well–thought out as she did. Of course, a sidekick like Jamie would be a welcome bonus, like a Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. I thought their tactical operations were amazing: hiding in the bathroom at closing time to avoid the museum staff who inspected the rooms to make sure that all the patrons have left; blending with the perfect school groups on tour to escape detection and learn at the same time about the exhibits; and bathing in the fountain, whose “wishing coins” provide them with spending money or “income.” However, I didn’t particularly relish the idea of “sleeping in an antique bed.” For some reason, even at my age then, I shied away from getting enmeshed with other people’s “energy” and smell, and shivered at the thought of sleeping with the bed’s owners who have long been dead.
Re-read your beloved children’s books. You’ll be surprised to find other gems there that you might not have discovered before. Or simply relive those happy days of reading from a child’s eyes. C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
the case for running away
While adventure is intrinsic to the concept of “running away,” our reasons for doing so could be as minor or as major as we choose them to be.
In the case of Claudia Kincaid, she wanted to feel different when she went back home. As the story progressed, she also wanted to solve the mystery of who created “Angel,” the statue that the museum purchased at an art auction: Angel was believed, but not proven, to have been sculpted by Michaelangelo. Claudia and Jamie research on the statue at the library and end up in Mrs. Frankweiler’s house, the wealthy previous owner of the statue. Mrs. Frankweiler recognizes them as runaways from a newspaper article and sends them to research the Angel in her long row of file cabinets containing her mixed files. Through Claudia’s wise approach to the research, they discover the angel’s secret. Mrs. Franweiler cuts them a deal: in exchange for a full account of their adventure, she will leave the decisive file to them in her will, and send them home in her Rolls Royce. The story goes well and ends well. Claudia is transformed; she would go home “changed” after all and she now has a secret to treasure and keep. Another possibility also surfaced: Mrs. Frankweiler’s impossible dream to have kids could come true: Claudia and Jamie plan to visit her in the future as if they were her own grandkids, but of course, they won’t tell her that; it will be their secret.
What might be a reason for running away at this time in our life? Perhaps it’s the boredom or routine of our everyday life. Or our lack of courage to express what we would like to say for fear of burning bridges or hurting other peoples’ feelings. Or could it be that we want to break away, temporarily or permanently? Perhaps we just need a breather, so we could look at what seems to suffocate us. Or, might there be a missing piece in us that needs finding?
the missing piece
“The Missing Piece” is one of my best ever children’s books by Shel Silverstein. (Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., c 1976). It’s one of those children’s books that I read as an adult. Actually, one might consider Silverstein’s children’s books as poetry for the adult.
The story is about a round animal-like creature that sets out on a grand adventure to find its missing piece. Imagine a slice cut off from a round cake; our main character is like that incomplete round cake with an empty wedge. Our creature-character goes about seeking for its missing piece while singing and enjoying the scenery; for instance, it would stop to talk to a worm or smell the flower as it rolls slowly. Finally, it meets the exact wedge to fit it, but soon finds out that now that he has the perfect piece, it could no longer sing (no more mouth to the round shape), nor roll slowly to enjoy the sights. So it gently releases the missing piece and continues on its way, happy again.
For me, the story is about finding answers to the quest for happiness and fulfillment, and that perhaps we don’t have to find the answers all the time, that it’s okay to have loose ends and embrace our rough edges. When an artist stops painting, he doesn’t really “complete” the painting. It just pauses in interesting places. Life can be that way, too.
Our life can be perfect in its imperfection. We need only to pay attention to the moment at hand, to stop where we need to pause and re-think, feel and breathe, maybe linger at the stop, and then move forward again. When we take a breather, we allow movement and space, so we can see with new eyes. And maybe we are able to find some missing piece that enhances our view.
As usual, I leave you with these thoughts:
“Take the time to come home to yourself everyday.” – Robin Casarjean
“Him that has control of departure, that has control of coming home, return, and turning in, that shepherd do I call.” – Atharva Veda
“The most effective way to cope with change is to help create it.” – Anonymous
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please leave a comment. Let’s continue the conversation.
P.S. If you are curious about what happened to the missing piece in the story above, I invite you to read “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O,” Silverstein’s sequel (Harper and Row Publishing, Inc., c 1981).
Note: If you are a young person reading this blog, living in the U.S. and are in a situation that provokes you to run away from home, or have already ran away and ready to come home, or have a friend who wants to run away, call 1-800-RUNAWAY (the National Runaway Switchboard) or contact The National Youth organization at http://www.nn4youth.org for help.