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My Neighbor Totoro and Exchanging Fear for Wonder} ?> Fear is one of the most difficult things to unlearn. We begin to learn fear at a very young age, but there is a sweet period before children learn to fear. Many little kids have a sense of innocence, curiosity, and fearlessness that’s often lost in adults as our years on this earth teach us to be afraid.
During my recent rewatch of My Neighbor Totoro, I was especially enraptured by the fearlessness of Mei. When the little totoros lead her into the tunnel of trees, she follows without hesitation. When she sees the big Totoro, she is only curious. When he roars so loudly at her that her hair blows, she screams in delight at this new marvel. This is a very different reaction than Satsuki’s when she first encounters the great fantastical beast. When she first sees Totoro by a bus stop on a dark rainy night, she’s a little nervous. Despite being a child, she’s still afraid of the unknown.
Fearlessness or Foolishness?
I also admire Mei’s effort to take her ear of corn to her sick mother. Yes, it was foolish, but the fact that a four-year-old girl would even think to undertake the journey in an attempt to help heal her mother is commendable. She was brave enough to try and that counts for something.
Fearlessness can often be equivocated as foolishness, because children can often stumble into trouble due to their curiosity. But children also see the world through a unique perspective because of it. Instead of seeing the world through a lens of fear, they see it through a lens of wonder and possibility. In my adult life, I could use some of that childlike fearlessness. Fear is often my first instinct. Experience has taught me to hesitate and, yes, that’s sometimes kept me from hardships, but other times it’s prevented me from enjoying life.
Unlike Mei, I was a very fearful child. I was always hesitant about unfamiliar things and circumstances, similar to Satsuki. My younger sister, on the other hand, was far more like Mei. She was fearless and curious. She went into situations head-on and sometimes that got her into trouble, but other times because of it she enjoyed life to the fullest. She often had to drag me out of my comfort zone to play new games.
I want that sense of wonder that Mei has. To a child, many simple things in life seem absolutely extraordinary, like Mei and Satsuki’s fascination with the acorns and the vegetables in Grandma’s garden. As an adult, I often shrug off the wonder of the simple things like a beautiful butterfly or a blooming flower in my hustle and bustle of daily life.
Sometimes I need to stop thinking like an adult and start finding the acorns in life: the little daily things to experience wonder and remember what it was like to be a child. My childhood is not a stage of my life I should forget. When I stop and take in the little things, I find beauty. I discover something that makes my day a little bit brighter. I feel more at peace because I’m not rushing from one task to the next.
Mei and Satsuki’s dad, Mr. Kusakabe, didn’t lose his sense of childlike wonder. When the girls were scared of a thunderstorm, he tells them to laugh, because they will feel better by doing so. When the girls said they heard something weird in their new house, he exclaimed how he always wanted to live in a haunted house. When Mei said she saw a Totoro, he followed her down the path of bushes despite his skepticism. Even when it turned out there was nothing there, he made her feel better by visiting the camphor tree. I want to be an adult like Mr. Kusakabe. I want to find the acorns in life and remember how to be fearless like Mei.
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