Opinion | A Lesson From the Strange and Lovely World of ‘Leaf Town’

Opinion | A Lesson From the Strange and Lovely World of ‘Leaf Town’

By now you have probably noticed that we’ve been referring to Leaf Town in the past tense.

It didn’t take long for the robberies to start. “The robbers tricked us,” Rose explained. “They looked like normal kids, and then when we took our money out, they would grab all our leaves and run. It made me sad, and pretty mad.”

Before the spate of robberies, the kids had left their stashes of trinkets and leaf currency out at the park overnight, secreted under trees or bushes. Now it seemed that one child, then two, then many had to become police officers: an entire force. A jail was also needed. The children began hoarding their currency, stuffing it into lunchboxes, hats, gloves and socks. They had become obsessive. The teachers took note, and put an end to the game.

The kids then switched to playing Leaf Town only after class had ended each day. This was when the outsiders came, older kids from different schools. One group of boys moved menacingly among the previously peaceful streets of Leaf Town, carrying large sticks. They declared they would destroy what the children had built. “These kids can’t stay here forever,” they taunted. This made the children all want to stay forever.

The kids had invented Leaf Town during a body-threatening pandemic; they’d kept it safe from the external world, but were their efforts doomed to fall victim to their fellow humans?

Watching from the perimeter with other parents and guardians, we felt tempted to intervene, but the children had to figure things out themselves. We held our tongues, but stayed close enough to jump in if things got too sticky. (Ha!) The kids set up a watch, keeping an eye on the boys hellbent on destroying their town. But one by one the children had to go home, for dinner or to Zoom music lessons, and Leaf Town was left defenseless.

Inevitably, when we checked the park on the way to school one morning, we found that the boys had carried out their threat. A group of girls, including Rose and her close friends, built Leaf Town back, smaller than before. Fewer kids wanted to play; the interest in commerce that spawned the Everything Store had now shifted to the burgeoning recess vogue of trading stickers. But the main part of the town was restored, rising once again from the material that nature provided.

Rose tried to understand the boys’ destructive impulse: the part of humanity that feels compelled and entitled to do harm and break things because they themselves feel hurt, confused, or undervalued. This is the part of America — of the world — that we struggle to explain. We tell Rose that those among us who reject peace and beauty are small in number, and that if greeted with kindness and given the opportunity, these people might change. We tell her that it’s vital to keep working toward justice and the common good, to keep acting honorably, even when faced with the prospect of senseless devastation.

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