Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak Dies

"Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious — and what is too often overlooked — is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things."

Maurice Sendak

Both of my parents — but especially my mother — encouraged me to read when I was a child.

And I did. I read many books by many writers, and I will always be grateful to my parents for opening that world to me by reading to me before I could read on my own.

I don't remember most of the authors' names now. They've been pushed from the top spots in my memory bank by authors whose works I discovered as I got older.

But there are a few writers from my childhood whose names I will never forget. The most noteworthy, I suppose, are Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) and Maurice Sendak.

I guess nearly everyone remembers something by Dr. Seuss whenever his name is mentioned, whether it is green eggs and ham or Horton hearing a Who or the Grinch who stole Christmas. But Sendak's name may not be as familiar.

Sendak wrote and illustrated "Where the Wild Things Are," a book that most of the people from my generation — and succeeding generations — knew and loved. And so did the adults who introduced them to it. That's what I remember more than anything else about that book. My parents got such a kick out of reading it to me — so did my grandmothers — and the pleasure was infectious.

"A 7–year–old hearing this story couldn't have more fun than a 70–year–old reading it," said Bill Moyers in 2004. "Where the Wild Things Are is ageless and timeless."

Indeed it is — but not so Sendak. He suffered a stroke last week and died today from its complications. He was 83.

Sendak's death stands in stark contrast with the message of his most famous book, which was that, no matter how scary the obstacles in one's life may be, there is always a way to overcome them — a way to tame the wild things.

But you can't sugarcoat everything for children. You can't shield them indefinitely from the unpleasant parts of life.

"Grownups always say they protect their children," Sendak once said, "but they're really protecting themselves.

"Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything."

Maybe that would be Sendak's parting advice. Somehow, the Wild Things will eventually prevail — for isn't the fear of death (more than the fear of pain) at the center of one's anxieties? Accept that fact, and live your life.

Don't fear the reaper, the wildest thing of all. You can't escape him.

Even if you live to be 83.