Donald Winnicott’s 1968 paper, “The Place Where We Live,” asks “where are we when we are doing what in fact we do a great deal of our time, namely, enjoying ourselves?” He notes that psychoanalysis tends to dwell either on a person’s experience in the world of objects—the outer world—or the world of dreams—the inner world. But there is a third zone, Winnicott says, where we live when we do things like “listening to a Beethoven symphony or making a pilgrimage to a picture gallery or reading Troilus and Cressida in bed, or playing tennis.” (In case his reader finds these examples too egregiously highbrow, he rather endearingly also throws in the example of teenagers “participating in a pop session.”)
It struck me walking back from drop off this morning that the place where the kids and I had been living this morning, Friday December 14, 2018, was precisely such an intermediate zone, raucous and poignant, sacred and profane, in which cultural references piled up and ran together. It was a zone in which the children tried (again) to teach me Orange Justice, at once delighted and horrified by my poor execution. It was a zone in which I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to the younger over the breakfast table while she ate yogurt and drew characters from Naruto.
We were (we remain!) at a climactic moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is the middle of the night: Lucy and Susan, unable to sleep, follow the lion, Aslan, into the woods. He sees them and tells them that they may walk with him if they promise to leave when he says so. They walk on in the woods. The girls notice he seems dejected and ask him what is wrong. “I am sad and lonely,” he tells them, “lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.” Then Lewis writes,
And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him—buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.
Reading the words aloud this morning reminded me of how viscerally this passage affected me when I first read it. As a child, reading these words made me realize that I too longed to touch Aslan, to bury my hands and face in his mane and smother him with kisses, as Lucy and Susan do before he leaves them to walk alone to the Stone Table, where the White Witch waits. Even as a child, my pleasure in Lewis’s evocation of Aslan’s lioness was bittersweet; that sentences could conjure such a semblance of softness and warmth seemed almost cruel, all the better to leave one feeling cold and alone when the image vanished—a bit the way, I thought to myself now, over the breakfast table, that enchanted Turkish Delight leaves Edmund longing for more .
I was adrift in these thoughts when the elder chimed in, ominously, as if he were a spy uttering a secret password, “The lion sleeps tonight.”
Then he added, “Was The Lion King really big when you were young, Mom?
“No, I was too old for The Lion King. But I loved that song when I was a kid.”
I found the song on my phone. Not the original—the version that was a hit in early 1982, when I was seven.
It transported me—not to the jungle, the mighty jungle, I hasten to add, but rather to the exotic climes of our living room in Tufnell Park, where I sat cross-legged on the floor, glued to Top of the Pops, completely entranced and quite sure that I would be perfectly happy to listen to a loop of the chorus (the part where the lead vocalist sings Weeheeheehee, dee heeheeheehee, weeoh aweem away) forever and ever.
(This feeling, apparently, runs in the family: I am typing this, I swear to God, to a background soundtrack of “in the jungle, the mighty jungle” in an endless loop, as the younger sings to herself in the bath).
At bedtime, I suppose—when she gets out of the bath, that is—we’ll pick up where we left off—at the stone table.
The lion sleeps tonight.