I have known of the book Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, for most of my life. It is one of those books that is always there, in the background, with people reading, talking about, and loving it. A special book that shines above most others.
I have read it many times, but, I must admit, in my younger days it was not one of my favorites. It was kind of grey and dull, and I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the imagination of the little boy Max. Being a kid who grew up in a severe and ordered home, the thought of wild Things that were unruly and rough and uncontrollable was, well, a nightmare honestly. I was taught to worry about that place that the wild ruled, where chaos reigned, where words don't make sense, and to avoid it at all costs. While everyone else was lauding this book, I did not appreciate it in much of any way.
Last September, a week or two after school had started for the year, and I had made the conscious decision to work on being a writer, I was cooking dinner one evening. I turned on Fresh Air to listen to while I chopped veggies. Terry Gross came on with an interview with Maurice Sendak. Being that he was a famous author, I figured I had better listen. They talked about many things, and I listened. I found myself burning the vegetables as I was brought to tears by the honesty and love that this man poured out of himself. Here was a person at the edge of death and so much in touch with life.
He spoke of creativity, parenting, art, death, faith, and life. And he did it all with what seemed to me, great wisdom.
I had been on my newly dedicated writing path for a mere 3 weeks. I was only touching the surface of opening to creativity, of dealing with parenting and love for a child while also wanting to pursue my own dreams, of holding onto my atheism in a world of powerful religious fervor. Listening to Maurice Sendak speak of each of these things with tears in his voice, felt a bit like having the tiny awakening my heart had recently acquired ripped wide open and made real. I fell in love with the man and his spirit immediately.
Later, I read a few more of Sendak's books at the library, and found the reality in them to be utterly profound. It brought me back to Where the Wild Things Are. I got it out to read to Cedar, and it took me to another world. The opening in my heart grew as I began to understand. I began to understand about Art. I began to understand what Picture Books really are, and what they can do. I began to understand that little Max needed place to run away to where he was the King.
I was saddened to hear of Sendak's death yesterday. I had been so amazed and inspired to hear such joy in his old voice as he talked of his life. I was also sad to realize that I had to grow up to understand what the Wild Things meant.
Then I remembered Sendak's tearful, joyous words as he ended the interview with Gross back in September, "Live your life, live your life, live your life." I felt grateful that even though it took me a long time to understand, I got here, and I will keep going. And I feel grateful now, that even though we all are so fragile and small and that really we have no control over anything, we can always find joy in the place Where the Wild Things Are.
For more NPR interviews with Sendak, go here.