In a little under a month, my baby boy, Jack, will turn 3 years old. He loves “Blue’s Clues,” playing hide-and-seek and reading books, especially at bedtime. While many of the books we read together are not the most profound literature ever written (I’m talking to you, Thomas the Tank Engine), there are actually some wonderfully rich narratives in toddler speak. I am, of course, referring to the epic tale of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson.
Some of you might remember Harold’s tale, but for those who don’t, here’s a brief synopsis: Harold decides to go for a “… walk in the moonlight.” “There wasn’t any moon and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight and he needed something to walk on. He made a long straight path so he wouldn’t get lost and he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him.” (And yes, I did just write that completely from memory; we read this book a lot.) As Harold travels he takes a shortcut, meets a dragon, has a picnic of pies on a beach and flies in a hot air balloon, all drawn by Harold and his purple crayon, on his quest to get back home to sleep. Though the book is rich in childhood imaginings, it wasn’t until I read it for the 50th time (at least) that I realized it is a metaphor for our current world circumstances and what it means to Unitarian Universalists and UU youth in creating social justice.
Every encounter Harold has, there are challenges he must overcome. The biggest challenges he faces, though, are ones of his own creation. He draws a forest with an apple tree and decides he needs something to guard the apples, so he draws a dragon, which scares him so badly that his hand shakes and creates an ocean. The cycle goes on and on. The white supremacy system created when the U.S. formed, the lack of basic health care for all citizens leading to a seemingly impossible fight against a global pandemic and the continued “solving” of perceived problems have all led us to where we are now. And while I don’t think the moral of Harold’s story is to stay home and never venture into the unknown, it can teach us much about how we have created the challenging situations in which we live. Harold’s story also has one guiding statement on how to overcome obstacles: Always seek the light.
Harold’s exciting adventure becomes a quest to find his bed, where he can see the moon through his window. Through all the challenges, the moon is still there shining a light on his way home. He doesn’t always remember it’s there or look to its light for guidance, but when he finally remembers “where his bedroom window is when there is a moon, it is always right around the moon,” he can finally draw his bed and go to sleep.
I hope all of us can take the time to find the light, but I especially want the youth in our community to know this. The light that shines for us to create the world we know can exist isn’t always visible. Sometimes it’s hidden by clouds. Sometimes we forget to look for it. Sometimes we are simply too weary to seek it. When Harold falls into bed and Jack says, “He dropped the crayon,” I remind him that Harold will pick it up in the morning when he wakes. Right now may be a time to fight our challenges or it may be a time to rest and seek the light another day. Wherever you are in your quest, remember that the moon and the crayon will always be there in the morning.