I had made a resolution to myself to update daily during the work week, but a concussion yesterday and a busy Tuesday prevented me from fulfilling this self-imposed obligation. Also, the four-part musing I had intended on religion is a heavier topic in my head than I had anticipated. I will continue this train of thought, but only once it’s ready to be continued.
Instead, a great number of things have been swirling about in the dusty cavity upstairs. Perhaps the concussion stirred up some old and familiar ideas. Perhaps my insomnia jangled them loose. I was musing late last night about the nature of this funny word, “innocence.”
Well, what does it mean, this word? The Oxford English Dictionary clamours for a say: “Freedom from sin, guilt, or moral wrong in general; the state of being untainted with, or unacquainted with, evil; moral purity.” Sin. Evil. Moral purity. Heavy heavy words, laced with religiosity and judgement, ambiguous to the core. But innocence is more than this, says the OED: “Freedom from cunning or artifice; guilelessness, artlessness, simplicity; hence, want of knowledge or sense, ignorance, silliness.” The OED also offers: “Of things: Harmlessness, innocuousness.”
Perhaps these last two definitions are the most telling. An innocent is easy to control. It seems to me that that is why innocence is so valued in children and in women. Innocence is virtuous. Innocence is ignorance. Innocence as defined here is dangerous, not innocuous.
Perhaps it is time for a new definition of innocence, then. What quality is to be preserved in children, in all people? I have only a personal answer: for me, it is a sense of wonder. Innocence, as I have understood it, is not a lack of sin or a lack of knowing pain or evil, but a sense of wonderment despite it. It’s the ability to be amazed– at science, a waterfall, human tenderness, the structure of a flower, the pleasure of sex, the sunshine, the moonlight, a fairytale, or even tenuous evidence of house brownies (curdled milk and orderly shoes are enough to satisfy this). To live with wonderment intact is the only true innocence that I’ve ever known, and every time I hear a child learn something and say “Wow…,” every time I see my friends volunteer to help at soup kitchens or battered women’s shelters, every time I see my sister smile despite all she’s been through, I know that innocence has nothing to do with the line between sin and salvation.