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Number 14’s Commandment By D Joshua Banks

An innocent mind is a rarity. Society corrupts us all, even if only a little.Life is made of moments. and choices. Not all of them matter, or have any lasting impact. Skipping class in favor of a taste of freedom, picking a prom dress because of the way it transforms you into a princess in the mirror. Even the nights you steal away from an open window, tiptoe silent to the end of the driveway, where darkened headlights and the pull of something unknown beckon.

These are all small choices, really. Insignificant as soon as they’re made. Innocent.In infancy, our blood is strong and our energy is plentiful. Mind and body, thought and action are one. Everything we do is in harmony with the natural order. The infant is not affected by things that happen around him. Virtue and ethics cannot restrain his will. Naked and free of social conventions, he follows the natural path of the heart. Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise.Most of us hoped to be able to trust. When we were little we did not yet know the human invention of the lie – not only that of lying with words but that of lying with one’s voice, one’s gesture, one’s eyes, one’s facial expression.   

How should the child be prepared for this specifically human ingenuity: the lie? Most of us are awakened, some more and some less brutally, to the fact that people often do not mean what they say or say the opposite of what they mean. And not only.Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people- the novelist’s world, not the poet’s. I’ve lived there. I remember what the city has to offer; human companionship, major league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained.

I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, “next year, I’ll start living…next year I’ll start my life.” Innocence is a better world.Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time. Innocence is not the prerogative of infants and puppies, and far less of mountains and fixed stars, which have no prerogatives at all. It is not lost to us; the world is a better place than that. Like any other of the spirit’s good gifts, it is there if you want it, free for the asking, as has been stressed by stronger words than mine.

It is possible to pursue innocence as hounds pursue hares; singlemindledly, driven by a kind of love, crashing over creeks, keening and lost in fields and forests, circling, vaulting over hedges and hills wide-eyed, giving loud tongue all unawares to the deepest, most incomprehensible longing, a root-flame in the heart, and that warbling chorus resounding back from the mountains, hurling itself from ridge to ridge over the valley, now faint, now clear ringing the air through which the hounds tear, open-mouthed, the echoes of their own wails dimly knocking in their lungs.

What I call innocence is the spirit’s unselfconscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration. One needn’t be, shouldn’t be reduced to a puppy. If you wish to tell me that the city offers galleries, I’ll pour you a drink and enjoy your company while it lasts; but I’ll bear with me to my grave those pure moments at the Tate (was it the Tate?) where I stood planted, open-mouthed, born, before that one particular canvas, that river, up to my neck, gasping, lost, receding into watercolor depth and depth to the vanishing point, buoyant, awed, and had to be literally hauled away. These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present. Maybe innocence is a skin you must shed to build layers more resistant to the caustic truths of the world.The thing about learning how to fight is that— some of us are not born with that desire. They say some are born fighters; but they don’t usually point out that others just aren’t. Some of us are forced by life to take up arms and fight. Many of us are.

The art lies in knowing when to wield those arms and when to put them down. I don’t think it’s a matter of pretending to be ideally unharmed by life and untouched by darkness; because that is hypocrisy. Rather, I think it is a matter of being true to your truth and learning when to fight and learning when to be soft. Hopefully, our soft moments in life will largely outweigh, outrank, and outrun our fightingWe look for things or people that are incorruptible. There is nothing incorruptible, merely uncorrupted. We neglect the role we play. We value innocence, but only the kind we cannot alter. We throw mud at purity and mock it for its stain.    

Listen to the child in you and follow its innocence.Trustful people are the pure at heart, as they are moved by the zeal of their own trustworthiness.


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