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Hundred Acre Wood

Hundred Acre Wood

A few weeks ago we actually had a holiday—yes, a real live holiday after eighteen months confined at home by the Covid jailor!

We stayed with our friends Julian and Sue in Bromley, who were kind enough to treat us to a London show: “Anything Goes” (appropriate theme after 1½ years of closed theatres).

Next day we went to a famous forest: Ashdown Wood. It’s the Hundred Acre Wood in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. We found the original bridge that inspired the game of Pooh sticks and, of course, we had to play. And I won! (although I’m very modest about it).

By coincidence Michael Deacon’s column in a recent Telegraph touched on A. A. Milne’s famous books. Here’s a short extract from his piece:

I love those stories. I loved my father reading them to me, and I loved reading them to my own son even more. What a joy it was, to hear the gurgling hysteria of his giggles.

The stories still seemed funny to me, too, largely thanks to the gentle absurdism of AA Milne’s narration, which so beautifully captures the way a child’s mind works. (“Christopher Robin had spent the morning indoors going to Africa and back, and he had just got off the boat and was wondering what it was like outside.”)

The only story I didn’t enjoy reading my son was the last one, in which Christopher Robin leaves the Hundred Acre Wood. That story isn’t really for small children. It’s for the grown-ups reading it to them.

“Christopher Robin was going away,” it begins. “Nobody knew why…”

And by the end of the story, the animals still don’t, not really, because Christopher Robin never says, or not in so many words. After all, he can hardly tell them that he’s now too old to be playing with cuddly toys, and so it’s time to stuff them in the back of a wardrobe, and grow up. Instead, what he says is: “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”

That story feels so much sadder to a parent than to a child. Because by now you understand that once you leave the Hundred Acre Wood, you can never return. And you know that, all too soon, your own child will be leaving it, too.

(Michael Deacon,The Telegraph, 24 July 2021)

Analogies with real life saturate the stories. I wonder if I’m Christopher Robin and if I’ve left the Hundred Acre Wood yet, or even if I should. Am I grown up now? The older I get the less adult I feel—still fumbling around trying to make sense of it all, trying to find a little wisdom here and there. Still dependent on friends dropped on my path; like Christopher Robin’s companions they may seem weak and unaware but teach quiet wisdom in their innocence. Do we ever grow up in this life, or does that only happen in the next? In the meantime I need Pooh Bear, Roo, Kanga and the rest to face the Heffalumps and other scary terrors. Fact is, we all need help in this life, guidance from fellow travellers, and especially from our Saviour Jesus Christ. His guidance may be unexpected: round the next bend, behind the next tree, chance remarks from apparently insignificant others so easily missed. Yes, I still need lugubrious, pessimistic Eyore, bouncing, scatty Tigger, and pontificating Owl (who doesn’t understand as much as he thinks he does—just like me). So no, perhaps I haven’t left the Hundred Acre Wood just yet; in fact maybe this mortal life is a Hundred Acre Wood for all of us.

For those who don’t know Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m sorry for you since not only will this post be unintelligible, but you’ve missed a choice piece of childhood. But there’s still time . . . find a copy and read it to an imaginary younger you. You might learn something, and you’ll come across Piglet, my favourite character. Piglet is timid, frightened at his own shadow, innocent, trusting—the opposite of a superhero. But when the chips are down, his back to the wall, and his friends need him he somehow screws up courage to help them. Friendship and loyalty are his greatest qualities. A quietly insignificant little person seemingly of no account, whose questions, conversation and actions raise him far above the ordinary. But each of the Hundred Acre Wood characters have their endearing qualities. We learn from them and from Christopher Robin some of the complexities and answers of life.

And does the Pooh-sticks Bridge lead to another country? We grow up, maybe not in an eternal sense, which waits in the next life, but in a lesser, mortal, earthly way. We go to school and learn things; fall in love and marry; get a mortgage, learn the pains of tax and finance; we have children and care for them. Childhood innocence becomes the idealism of youth, responsibilities of young adults, the pragmatism (hopefully not cynicism) of middle age, then the wisdom of old age (or is it regression to childhood, as it sometimes seems to me). It’s called maturing. Some find maturity sooner than others, some seem never to find it at all. What seems certain is that we all need help from outside ourselves, a need that never ends. At times more desperate as we face the slings and arrows of life but a constant refrain throughout mortality. My faith is that help is always available and always given to those who ask, although not always in the way we want. We have a Father who loves us, a Saviour who died for us, and a Holy Spirit who guides us.

But remember, as Winnie the Pooh said: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”


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