“Alice must grow small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland.”
–G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Alice must grow small. My summer muse, Chesterton, looked me severely in the face and spoke this sentence just after I had typed the woefully self-pitying thought that I felt like a newly-hatched butterfly whose wings would not un-crumple. “Oh,” I said. “Oh.”
Perhaps even wings would make me too large to fit into Wonderland. But that is not the real point. The real point is that, the moment I begin to craft metaphors to describe the state of my feelings, in that moment I begin to balloon to inordinate size, filling the whole of my own view, to the exclusion of all things wild and wonderful. I make myself a towering dromedary beside a needle-eye door, and, were my camel-hump really stored with water, it would be an insufficient supply for the tears I could shed at my exclusion from the paradise visible through that slot.
“Grow small,” Chesterton insists, glaring from beneath his beetling brows with eyes that twinkle at the joke of a man of his girth telling anyone to grow smaller.
I’ve spent much of my life trying for a tiny perspective, venturing into mouse-houses with Beatrix Potter, making tiny dwellings for Polly Pocket dolls amongst tree roots and under clover leaves. More recently, I’ve made my camera do the shrinking for me, giving me glimpses of the undersides of mushrooms, looking eye-to-eye with touring snails.
But that is not really the smallness Chesterton means, either. He means a smallness that has nothing to do with size and everything to do with direction of the eyes. He means looking at the snail, and not bothering about whether I look large or small beside it. He means that being newly-hatched into the world is so astonishing that the question of whether you hatched with or without wings becomes immaterial. Stop looking, he seems to say, at the crumpled things on your own back, and start looking at the places your legs can take you.
My life might be, as Anne Shirley says, “a perfect graveyard of buried hopes,” but it is equally a garden wherein lovely things I never dreamed of planting come blooming unexpectedly, wherein I may be small, like Alice, and find the flowers towering above my head.
Once upon a dark day, the Hope of the world was buried in tomb in a garden, and all those who had hoped grieved and wondered and saw no way to hope again. And then, and then, He rose again, making this garden-graveyard-world of ours a place where it is never safe to assume that the things we grieve for will stay in their graves. We live in Wonderland, where hopes may be resurrected, camels may step through needles’ eyes, butterflies may find their crumpled wings made whole.
Here I am small, and very glad.
©2013 by Stacy Nott