The Curse of Homelessness
The Life of Prayer: A Reminder

The Real Wonder Years


"But I think about the events of that day again and again, and somehow I know that Winnie does too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and struggle of love, there were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments like that one of sorrow and wonder."

(Kevin Arnold, as an adult, in the Pilot for the TV series, The Wonder Years)

That final bit of narration by the adult Kevin Arnold forms a particularly poignant ending to the Pilot episode of the 1988 television series, The Wonder Years. Every time I watch this TV show I find myself in the story. It's really a filmed memoir, with an older Kevin as narrator reflecting back on his years growing up in late Sixties suburbia, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, racial tensions, and the Vietnam War --- all such events tangential to the life of an 11-year old and yet impinging at times with a sharpness. For example, in this episode Winnie's brother goes off to Vietnam and is killed, and it is the first time Kevin was aware that someone young, someone like him, could actually die. Sorrow and wonder. When he goes to talk to Winnie and finds her alone, he puts his coat around her, and unexpectedly she turns and kisses him. Wonder. And yet they don't know what to do after that, what to say, so as Kevin the narrator says "They just decide to put romance on hold and go back to being friends." They go swing. They are, after all, only 11.

I'm not sure my teenage kids would completely appreciate this show, as they haven't actually lived through all of childhood and had opportunity to reflect on it. But practically everything that happens in this ½ hour show and every emotion expressed resonates with me. All the wondering if a girl liked me or didn't, and if she did, what I should do about that. The fear of standing out, of being different. The moments when the larger world intrudes and scares or confuses. The home that is safe, and yet not able to keep out news of friends' parents divorcing, of the real effect of war, of violence. Our world was the home and the neighborhood, but as time went on it became increasingly clear that we couldn't stay there, that a larger world both beckoned and haunted us. Sorrow and wonder. I somehow have the sharpest and most intense memories of those years. Every time I hear the songs so carefully selected for that show --- songs by Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, or Neil Young, for example --- I'm hearing the soundtrack of my life, or at least a part of my life that seems to haunt everything I do and everything I am today.

Maybe the reason The Wonder Years so affects me is that have a longing within for a simpler time when life was bounded by my neighborhood, a place where I knew everyone and where nothing very bad ever happened, where my home was a respite against everything else that might be going on (even with a butthead of a brother named "Wayne), where Paulie, as nerdy as he might be, would always be my friend, no matter what. On the other hand, I'm well aware of the human tendency to idealize a past time, remembering the good and forgetting the bad. I'm not really interested in going back there, but I am interested in going through there on my way to a better destination.

What do I mean by going through there? It's really about the Godly use of memories. We are called not to live in the past, relishing nostalgia, but to remember the past as a present help and a future hope. The past teaches me lessons about how to live today, sure, but more and more it offers me glimpses into my future, to a time of a renewed heavens and earth that reminds me very clearly (and physically) of all that was good about my past. As Randy Alcorn teaches in his book, Heaven, Christians do not await the destruction of the earth and our ascension to a Heaven of disembodied souls but, rather, the renewal of this heaven and earth. On that earth, a rock will be more a rock than it ever was, the color green even more green, and Paulie more Kevin's friend than he ever was. A place where even bitter memories will be transformed by the good. Then, the people walking in darkness (that's us) will have seen not a twinkle of light, not a glimmer, but a great light. (Is. 9:2). Those will be the real wonder years.