"Go back and grow up. But I warn you: once you've grown up, you can never come back. Never!” –Peter Pan
Flashback to January 31, 1985. An eleven year old boy sits up alone, waiting eagerly for the new year. Dick Clark helps the boy pass the time until the big moment. Clark's timeless image on the black and white TV wavers and fuzzes a bit, as the reception from the rabbit ears isn't too great. The boy doesn't notice. Cable TV is a thing for the rich, as is color.
He sits quietly, glancing up at the TV only occasionally because he is busy cutting a piece of paper into giblets so he will have confetti to throw when the ball drops. The idea of a new year is a new idea to him. Never before has he been able to stay up so late, much less alone. An intense sense of wonder pervades him, filling him with questions that cannot be asked aloud, for they have no words equal to their pattern. Only experience can answer questions such as these.
Time passes slowly. An hour seems to take a day. A second, forever. Dick Clark announces that the moment is nigh, only ten minutes to go! Giddy with excitement, the boy squirms in his seat. To while away the few final minutes, he plays with the Christmas presents he got a few days before. The guns fire! Smack, smack, go the rubber darts on the television. Bull’s-eye! He spins them on his fingers and sheaths them in imaginary holsters, John Wayne style.
The room is getting chilly. Getting up, the boy checks the wood stove. Sure enough, it needs feeding. Only a couple of sticks in the firebox, so he puts on his coat and heads outside for a good-sized log. It's bitter cold and his breath hangs about him like the haze of smoke creeping out of the chimney. Stopping by the woodpile that he and his father helped to build just that day, he gathers up a large log with both arms. For some reason he looks up at the sky. The clouds, which for days have hung over the town in which he lives, have parted, allowing the celestial beauty to shine through. He makes a quick wish upon the first star he sees, forgeting it almost as soon as it is uttered. He smiles at the beauty of God above him and goes back into the house where the hungry maw of the stove awaits its feeding.
The crackle of the wood chips combines with the sizzle of the frozen log, while eager tongues of flame lick its sides like a dog smacking its chops in eager anticipation of a soup bone. It's magic and song to the boy's ears. It warms him inside to know that he helped to cut the wood, drag it home, and prepare it to be brought inside and sacrificed within the altar that keeps his family going. A primal joy comes to him as he watches his contribution ignite.
His reverie is broken by the call from the television. One minute to 1986! Snapping the stove's door closed, he sets the damper and sits down at the table. Trembling with anticipation and sheer delight, he watches the TV, transfixed to the lighted ball over Times Square as it creeps down the pole. Slowly at first, then faster, faster, until the countdown is at 10... 9... 8... He grabs his confetti and counts with Mr. Clark, "3... 2... 1... HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to 1986!!" The confetti flies up into the air and the boy cheers with the crowd, being careful however to not wake his family. Several giblets stick to the inside of his hand but he is bewitched by the pieces fluttering down in front of the TV. They seem to stop momentarily in time and space at that moment. An odd milestone has been reached in his life that he is just now beginning to realize. As the moment passes and the paper hits the floor, he is filled with a strange feeling of lonely despair. Auld Angzyme drones on in the background as he looks down at the giblets scattered at his feet. The moment is gone, the ecstacy escaping as quick as it appeared, in a way that he will not know again for at least another four years, when the shadow of sex rears its bestial head above the waters of his youth.
It is in that second that he realizes that time is a valuable commodity that can never be returned. We are mortal, with our time allotted to us by the grace of God. The great "Thing", the mystery of the passing seconds, means nothing to the world around us. There was no wave-front at 12 o'clock. No great miracle that could be felt that actually separated one year from the next. No great miracle except that a boy realized that we are only given so much time to work with. The greatness of God comes from what we choose to do with that time.
Turning off the TV, the boy kneels down to pick up the paper he threw. Turning on his knees, he opens the door to the stove and feeds another little bit to the beast within. The fire takes him away from this place in time and space and he floats there, perhaps to this day. For you see, the boy was me. At that moment, looking into the fire, a piece of me grew up and let go of the child that had been. Let it free to wander the stars and heavens of his own personal Neverneverland. I'm sure that the little boy still plays there with his cars and trucks, cap guns, and kites, alongside the other Lost Boys and girls that have wandered in over the years. Never will they grow old in that place of magic and Pooh-Bears.
May we all someday prove Peter Pan wrong and be reunited with the shadow of the child we once were. It lives in a place not too hard to find. Merely follow the second star to the right and go straight on till morning. Once there, perhaps Wendy will be kind enough to sew it back on for us.