I don’t have too many memories of my mother. She died when I was 12. But one memory was stirred by the royal wedding.
I must have been about 9 years old when a BBC documentary was made about the royal family. Being Irish, we were hardly royalists, but watched the programme at our home in Dublin anyway. I barely remember anything about it except that I ended up thinking how lucky the royal children were and that I’d very much like to be a prince!
When I told my mother that I’d like to be a prince, I remember being surprised by her response. I can’t recall in detail what she said except that she helped me imagine what it would really be like to be a prince, and basically how hard it would be. She certainly shattered my illusions and I can remember feeling a little bit sorry for the princes – though still slightly jealous of them.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with boys or girls wanting to be princesses or princes, or dressing up and acting out roles. We need to encourage imaginative play among children and perhaps among adults too.
Imagination can lead one astray, or make one fearful, as happens to Will Thacker when he turns down Anna Scott in the film “Notting Hill”. Julia Roberts plays Hollywood film star Anna, who asks Will (Hugh Grant) to look beyond his anxiety about the Hollywood razzamatazz and see who she really is: “.. just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” (Still brings tears to my eyes!)
A disciplined and adult imagination helps us understand many situations. When we imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes it can change our attitude and draw us into prayer and action.
Understanding someone’s situation leads to a natural empathy, but we may have to work hard at it. Just as a prince isn’t defined by being a prince, so many of the labels we give people do not define them but we can be lazy and not look beyond them. Hatred and prejudice is so often a failure of the imagination.
A little knowledge and a bit of imagination might cause us to look out for someone who’s just had a baby, or someone who is new to our neighbourhood. It may lead us to support a foreigner seeking asylum, or pray for our government, or for a just peace in Syria, or lead us to give money to the work of Joanna among prostitutes in Leeds
Our own imagination, our own ability to visualise any situation will be limited in many ways, but other people can help us see our blind spots and fill in some of our lack of experience or knowledge. It’s good to have friends and be part of a broad community that does that.
As a child I made a superficial judgement about other people’s lives. I fear that I still sometimes do that! But I am constantly challenged by Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbour as oneself. That requires a lot of imagination.