Did you have an imaginary playmate when you were a child? Did you know children who did?
Our 3-year-old grandson, Jack, just introduced his friend, “Masten” to our family. Last week his sister celebrated her birthday. “It’s Masten’s birthday today, too!” Jack shouted. So we sang Happy Birthday to Masten’s empty chair, to Jack’s delight … and to the delight of us all.
I was quick to tell my daughter, Jack’s mom, to welcome and respect Jack’s unseen friend, Masten. I have come to believe that these unseen playmates could be one of the many angels that surround us. And this young child can see one! A guardian angel? Who knows?.
My son, Joe, had an unseen friend, John Cooper. John was very real to Joe. Joe acknowledged John’s presence at our dinner table by pulling out a chair for him, and when we travelled away from home, Joe asked me to stop so he could call John to tell him where we were.
On one trip to Canada to take Joe’s older sister to the Maple Youth Camp, Joe insisted that I stop at a pay phone so that he could call John to tell him we were going away. When we were returning on the same route, Joe spotted the same pay phone and asked me to stop again so he could call John to tell him we were coming home. Joe was about 3 ½ years old.
Since I studied Child Development and taught it, this phenomenon fascinated me. I watched Joe as he paged through a family photo album and stopped at a photo of one of his cousins in Arizona. “That’s John Cooper”, Joe said. The cousin’s name was, in fact, John, and his great grandmother’s maiden name was Cooper. I also had a brother, John, who had died at 3 weeks, before I was born. It warmed my heart to think that my brother, John, might be my son’s guardian angel.
Later I asked Joe what he remembered about John Cooper. Joe said, “Well, when we were playing and it started to rain, I’d get wet, but he wouldn’t.” My niece, Sally, had an unseen companion, her “other mother”, “Princess Santer”, who had two little girls, “Intin” and “Erin”. Princess Santer, Sally said, never yelled at her children.
The world of imagination is a wonderful place, and just like the spiritual world, it holds mysteries that we can’t necessarily define and explain. To me it is a world where we are free to explore and love without being tethered to the “real world”. Perhaps that’s why I have always loved fairy tales and have always sensed that, somehow, they are deeply true.
I know that C.S. Lewis and his brother, Warren, found great solace, after their mother’s death, in the villages they built where they placed animals in charge. And C.S. Lewis, or Jack, as he was known, went on to create the wonderful world of Narnia.
Authors often speak of the characters in their novels as “taking on a life of their own”, often to the point that the author does not know how a story will turn out, since the story seems to be writing itself. Is this an adult manifestation of the unseen friends of childhood?
So, I’d be interested in our reader’s experiences and attitudes toward imaginary playmates, or unseen friends, who come, unbidden, to bring friendship and delight to all.