You can't help but go among mad people. We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.
~Cheshire Cat

01 March 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole Part One: Falling

Chapter One: Down the Rabbit Hole
Part One: Falling

The story is simple, but it represents something far more complex. We see it simply, and interpret it with complexity.
The little girl Alice is bored and she begins to use her imagination. She sees a peculiar rabbit, so she begins to chase him, all the way into a rabbit hole, where she discovers that it seems to be an endless chasm. She falls in.
Seems simple enough: bored little girl, rabbits, chasing, falling, endless chasms. We’ve all heard the story for what it is: a story.
For many, it ends there. It’s a story of a little girl using her imagination.
For me, it’s much deeper than that.

Have you ever fallen into a rabbit hole? I have. And I don’t mean a metaphorical rabbit hole; I mean a literal rabbit hole. I think I was about 8 years old. My cousins and I were running around playing behind our grandparents’ house, on a big hill next to the train tracks. I was chasing my older cousin when suddenly I found myself flat on my face with a mouthful of dirt. It took a few seconds, but despite the humor that my cousins found in the situation, I felt the deep throbbing pain that I could only imagine had to mean that my entire leg had fallen off. I remember screaming in horror as my cousins ran away in the distance. That’s it, I thought. I was a goner.
As it turns out, my foot had gotten caught in a rabbit hole and I tripped. I had hardly even twisted my ankle, but for the rest of the day I pretended that I was broken.
Maybe it was for the attention. Maybe it was because I was mad that my cousins (all boys, all older than me) had laughed and ran away while I was, in my mind, dying. My ankle was iced and elevated the rest of the day, and we had to watch only movies that I wanted to watch, eat what I wanted to eat, and essentially be as miserable as I thought I was.
We watched Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the 2-part film from 1985. It wasn’t until Alice falls down the rabbit hole that I saw the parallel.
I think that, as trivial as it sounds, was a pivotal point in my life and my relationship with Alice.
But back to the story.

The details of the story, rather than the plot, are what get me thinking.

Alice is being tutored by her sister, and her attention and frustration with the material lead her mind to wander. She feels sleepy, stupid, bored, and irritable. She decides to occupy her mind by picking daisies and braiding them together. Her mind starts to wander even further when out of the corner of her eye she spots a rabbit running next to her. The rabbit is focused intently on the time by glaring at his pocket watch, and is panicking about being late. At this point Alice first comes to realize that she’s never seen such a sight. She notices his waistcoat, and recognizing the urgency of his situation, she drops everything and begins to chase him. Her curiosity caused her to run so fast, that when the rabbit darted under a hedge and down a rabbit hole, Alice didn’t hesitate to follow. She fell very slowly.

When Alice’s mood goes from bored, grumpy, and sleepy, to sudden curiosity with a sense of urgency, I can’t help but recount my own experiences. It actually gets pretty real. Let’s keep moving.

As she is “falling,” she takes in everything she is seeing. The hole into which she fell became a chasm; a journey through her own mind. She noticed that the walls of the chasm were filled with shelves, maps, paintings, and cupboards. At one point, she sees a jar labeled “Orange Marmalade.” She picked it up. To her dismay, it was empty, and she wanted to put it back on the shelf. But the shelf was now ten feet above her. Should she just drop it? But, if she dropped it, maybe it would kill someone below her. She clutched onto the jar until she passed another shelf with enough room for her to place it. 

Her concern for consequences seems remarkable for a little child, but I can relate. What if I drop the glass jar of orange marmalade? What if I suddenly, unintentionally, and almost unnoticeably harm somebody? How likely is it that there is a person at the bottom of this chasm? How likely is it that the jar could hit a target that specific? How likely is it that the jar could accumulate enough velocity to actually kill someone?
Probably not very likely. But it is still possible. And that’s enough to keep me clutching onto that jar.

‘Well!’ thought Alice to herself, ‘after such a fall as this, I shall
think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at
home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top
of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)

This experience trumps almost every experience Alice has ever had, and rethinks her reactions to things as trivial as tripping down the stairs.
As she falls, Alice tries to impress herself with her own knowledge, despite not knowing what she was even talking about. But she knew which words to use in many situations, because she had heard them in a similar context before. She didn’t care if she mixed up ‘longitude’ with ‘latitude’ or if people on the other side of the world actually did walk upside-down; she was just proud that she could use such impressive words, even if no one was around to hear them. 

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