The wonder in innocence
Words by Emma Walsh
It is something to savour and celebrate because once it is fully lost it can be nearly impossible to reclaim.
Innocence. It’s one of those concepts that is hard to simply put down to one idea or value. For everyone it will be different, some may view it as the way a child views the world or that subtle naivete that we all have with our first relationship. To me, however, innocence is one of the greatest attributes a person can have. It is something to savour and celebrate because once it is fully lost it can be nearly impossible to reclaim. We are all born into this world with a purity that can only be called innocence. Not knowing what the world has in store for us or what we are capable of. Being able to experience life with simple joy, understanding that in every moment we have an incredible opportunity to be more, offer more and grow from adversity no matter where it comes from. This is something I am constantly seeking to develop in my life. Past experiences and traumas have demonstrated to me the indescribable power of a person who, in the face of adversity, rises to become far greater than they were before. Learning to carry your life story as a beacon rather than a dead weight, and using it to inform your life. Acknowledging that in fact living with innocence does not mean that you blindly blunder through life in a sugar coated world. But rather that despite everything you can still continue to search for your most fulfilled self. I was born into the world at 4.30am in Harare, Zimbabwe. Coming into this world was not a simple Hollywood experience, my dad claims that I took one look at the state of it and wanted to rush back to the safety I had held for 9 months. My life in Zimbabwe, for the first years, was one of wonder, exploration and yes: innocence. I lived on a tobacco farm in Karoi, a small farming town in the north of the country. My mum and dad created a world for us, in which we learned about death, life, joy and love. My life was mapped out and there was a degree of security within that. There was space on the lawn for my wedding in the future, my grandparents lived down the road and my cousins were a constant fixture in my life. We were a huge and chaotic family, but a happy one. The day I felt my innocence fade first was when my dad went missing. In Zimbabwe the government began a policy of Reclamation of white farmed land. To take back what the colonists had stolen and drive out the white invaders. Now, this is not a political essay, it isn’t somewhere where I hope to garner support or polarise opinions. Rather I hope to shed light on how a little girl, born into a world, not of her making, was thrust into adulthood from an incredibly early age.
Innocence to me, has become that desire to see beyond the sharp astringency of the world. To taste the vinegar of brutal moments and to remember the sweetness that life has to hold.
My dad went missing. At the time, of course, I didn’t really understand what was happening or what this meant and if I’m honest the memories are a blur of emotions and static images. The telephone blaring, panicked whispering and the kindly but uneasy ushering of adults as they encouraged us to play. By the time we found him, he was battered and bloody. He had been taken aside to make a point, for voting for the wrong party in the recent elections and for being a white farmer. Even now, nothing can really prepare you for seeing a parent reduced to that. This being of immense strength, a beacon of hope, guidance and aspiration, being brought down by the hands, and weapons, of another person. The thing is, these kind of events were common where I am from. Our community of employees and their families, neighbours, friends and family all had a shared experience of physical brutality and intimidation. During the elections violence was promised to those people who supported the opposition party, the majority of those being farmers in our area, including our family. So to get out of the country and out of harm’s way we went to explore our potential new home. As far away as possible from the dangers of our homeland. To the other side of the world, a country I didn’t even know existed: New Zealand. We embarked across the world to a land so green it hurt my eyes. I remember thinking that this New Zealand was the softest place I had ever seen. The birds sang like something out of a storybook and the leaves curled and danced. Everything was wet, fresh and new. Nothing like home. But strangely like home. For two weeks we danced between excited car journeys and late-night frantic back and forth conversations across the dining table. My parents only wish was to preserve our childhood, to give us a chance at witnessing the world unphased and unaltered. Their own childhoods were scattered with war and death, growing up in a civil war left them with scars of experiences they were too young to understand. So in this way, my parents saw New Zealand as the beacon. The place that would hold our souls together that would knit it all back into one piece and keep it safe. When we returned to Zimbabwe everything seemed more heated and sharp then I remembered. Our school was held hostage as men barred our parents from entering and us from leaving. I remember driving to school and my mum had a shotgun beside her. We never left the confines of our home without someone. Whether it was a short drive to my grandparents or when we walked the dogs. Someone was with us, watching, waiting. Months of brutality and violence. The place that had once been a home to us all, drove us out. After weeks of visa appointments and negotiations, we moved to New Zealand in September 2000, first just myself my little brother and my mum. I remember the day we left, I could see my grandpa and my dad standing on a balcony at the airport watching our plane pull out and prepare to take off. Confused, angry, upset and overwhelmed, I sobbed. As the plane took off, I watched the life that I had begun to understand and become a part of slip away beneath the clouds. We haven’t been back since. Nineteen years on and I now sit in Melbourne, Australia as I type this. I’ve lived in Auckland, London and now have found a home here. The events of my early childhood have left me jaded and for the longest time I lamented the loss of my innocence. But in retrospect I now see that although it is slightly bruised, it never left it has just evolved. Experiencing a trauma like my family have you learn to celebrate the small moments of life. Quiet walks on the beach near our house in New Zealand, as the sun rises over Mount Rangitoto with the singing of the Tui birds in the Pohutakawa trees. A polar opposite from the red earth mornings on the farm. My family is wound together like wool on a spool. Bonded by what we experienced, carrying it with us like shrapnel every day. So, innocence to me, has become that desire to see beyond the sharp astringency of the world. To taste the vinegar of brutal moments and to remember the sweetness that life has to hold. Innocence is a commodity that is far often seen as a character flaw. A softness not made for the hustle of modern life. But I think that in fact, it is the one thing that can define a person and raise them beyond that of others. Being able to see the world for what it is but still marvel in the magic of the gentle moments. Looking at the world with wonder but still remaining grounded in the here and now. In its raw form innocence allows us to smile in a thunderstorm and soak in the sun when it dances from the heavens. I offer this to you hopefully, in the interest of reintroducing you to your own innocence. It’s taken me years to accept and celebrate my softness and in the face of the future we are on the brink of receiving. We need our innocence more than ever.
Em is a 26 year old nomadic self-confessed cat lady. After bopping around the world and finding herself in Melbourne she is settling into the idea of writing as her ‘thing’. Lover of all things Caravaggio, Scandinavian furniture and the perfect cappuccino. Writing has always been a beautiful quiet secret love. Poems, short stories and ditties flit around her world waiting to be plucked out the sky and scattered onto paper. During the moments when she is not writing furiously about whatever pops into her head, Em can be found running the nature tracks of the leafy north and exploring Melbourne’s coffee shops and delis. If she could pass on one thing from her journeys it would be this- Listen to the voice that calls you to your true creativity, the thing that glows from within and brings you into your most authentic state.
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