It is a familiar enough occurrence in my line of work: a client admits to being lost, without direction, not knowing where to go or what to do. It is a confession we make with eyes lowered, voice hushed, as if our words were proof of failure. I’m sure that I have more than once lowered my head to confess the same.
A story always comes to mind in these moments, one from my early days of mothering. It took place on the wet and windy west coast of Scotland where my kids were born. There was an old uninsulated village hall down by the water where a parent-toddler playgroup was held every week. For almost two years I avoided going, dreading the thought of standing around in a big damp space with a bunch of mothers half my age. But eventually the guilt over my son’s friendless existence overcame the feeling, and I took him along.
We were late — totally the fault of my stubborn ambivalence — so by the time we arrived things were already underway. All around the periphery of the huge space distinct play areas had been set up: building blocks here, sandbox there, trucks and cars, coloring, water play. All the adults and children were busily engaged. The vast middle of the hall was empty.
My not-quite-two-year-old son let go of my hand and walked, unbidden and alone, into the center of the space. He stood there, perfectly still, and just looked around. He stood there like that for a long time.
Perhaps an angel intervened, or perhaps it was simply the power of his tiny shape, so calm, silent, and still that awakened me, but I suddenly had a sense of the sacred. There was a kind of hush in the middle of that noisy room. I found myself praying that no one would call out to him, that no one would invite him to come to this or that activity, that whatever it was he was doing in that brave, solitary stillness would not be interrupted.
I was seeing something I had never really appreciated before, this seeming holy space of simply taking in the possibilities. He was in a new world, and in an unhurried, unselfconscious way, checking out what it had to offer.
You might say that he was lost, without direction, not knowing where to go or what to do. But he was not ashamed. He hadn’t learned that yet. He was just perched there on the wide lip of possibility, not knowing but perfectly okay with the mysterious process of coming to know.
Eventually, of course, he moved towards something in particular, whatever it was that had called out to him from among all the choices. I was grateful that no one had chosen for him. It’s easy to imagine an adult, with the best of intentions, “rescuing” him from that holy place. We can only imagine what was going on between that little boy and the world in that extended moment: some kind of private dialogue, his soul reaching out and the world offering itself.
I’ve told this story many times, as it seems to grant a dignity to that much maligned yet painfully familiar experience of not knowing. Perhaps seeing that child in ourselves replaces our shame with innocence and allows us to marvel at how it is that we manage to find our own way in the world — if we are allowed to.
How did knowing become so all important? Let’s not Google everything so fast. Try to remember what it was like to wait to know a thing. To not have every answer close at hand. Something opens in us then, something soft and more of the heart than the head.
And maybe if we could reclaim that — shamelessly, hearts open like an invitation — the world might speak to us of what it needs. And if I let my dream go all the way, our children’s children would rename our time The Age of Repair, because we managed to be humble and brave enough to not know, and so came to know the way.
Carey Morning is an American living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is a psychotherapist, writer, and painter.