"But, luckily, he kept his wits and his purple crayon. He made a balloon and he grabbed on to it."
I started eating again. And listening to music. Which is how I ran across this country song by Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”
A warning: It’s sappy as hell. In the song, it’s Christmas Eve, and a young mother is driving home to see her mama and her daddy (in Cincinnati, of course—it rhymes). Her baby is asleep in the backseat when, with 50 miles to go, she finds herself “running low on faith and gasoline.” She’s going way too fast when she hits an ice patch. So what does she do?
The opposite of what Harold would do. At least that’s what I used to think.
“She threw her hands up in the air,” Underwood sings; then she tells us what the young mother cried out: “Jesus, take the wheel/Take it from my hands/’Cause I can’t do this on my own.”
And of course, he does. And the car comes to a stop without even waking up the baby.
Now, when I first heard this song, I believed that in the church of the purple crayon, there could be no throwing up of hands. When you hit an ice patch, you took your foot off the accelerator and cut your wheels sharply in the direction of the spin. Then, for good measure, you used your purple crayon to draw a gas station where you could fill up your tank.
But I have to admit that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that self-serve is overrated. I knew I wasn’t going to get baptized or to accept any deity as my personal savior; that’s just not me. But I was pretty tired of pumping my own crude.
I thought about the end of Harold and the Purple Crayon, when our hero feels tired and wishes he were home in bed. He’s been searching for a way back for pages and pages when suddenly he remembers the location of his bedroom window.
“It was always right around the moon,” the book says, as Harold sets to work drawing two panes of glass and two curtains.
“And then Harold made his bed”—the book shows him creating it with his crayon. “He got in it and he drew up the covers. The purple crayon dropped on the floor.”
"And Harold dropped off to sleep."
The other night, my 12-year-old described himself, in passing, as a Christian. I wasn’t shocked, just curious. “Do you believe in God?” I asked. He nodded with a calm certainty. “Where does your belief come from?” I asked gently. “Has Daddy talked to you about it?”
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I just feel it.”
So many things have gone through my head since that conversation, but mostly I feel relief. Somehow, we have given our son the room to explore his own spirituality and exposed him to enough that he feels equipped to do so. Another realization: My son, an only child, is many things, but lonely is not one of them. I can’t help but think that his belief in something bigger is part of the reason why.
For so long, self-rescue was my mantra. But self-reliance in a vacuum is a lifestyle I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Now, I’ve come to see that Harold had faith in himself and the universe.
It has been a long time coming, but I think I am capable of that kind of trust, too. Imagine it’s Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and a not-so-young mother is hanging the stockings that she sewed herself, more than 30 years ago. Her (preteen) baby is asleep upstairs when, after a lifetime running low on faith, she decides maybe it’s time.
Time to grant herself a little slack. Time to trust in the cosmos. Time to take her hands off the wheel.
Amy Wallace is a Los Angeles–based writer. Her work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Wired and The New Yorker.
Harold and the Purple Crayon turns 55 next year. It’s aging well indeed.
From the December/January 2010 issue of MORE Magazine.