“When all is quiet and we are small and the night is dark, may we hear the tender breathing of all who lie awake with us” Jane Rzepka
When my son Thomas was about two months old, I recall one evening (amongst many) without sleep. I think there must be a biological event where new parents’ brains are rewired from the lack of sleep to ensure their priorities are aligned to new life. Of course, Tom’s cry had a startling impact on us, and we went through the checklist of appropriate responses: feed, burp, nappy, cuddle. Nothing. We tried again, and again, and again. We tried reflecting on why he might cry, as we hadn’t learned to translate different cries to their respective needs.
And at one point, I heard my thoughts cry out “I want someone to tell me what to do.” This was without my prompting, so must have spoken to some deep, hidden part of my being. I felt it as much as I heard it. It wasn’t just for the countless books we had consulted and friends we knew, it wasn’t for some suggestion or ‘have you tried this?’ It was for something deeper, more assurred – something I could put my whole faith into and forget. I could sacrifice my conscience and allow this higher authority to take over.
I felt I understood more people at that moment. As Rzepka writes: people who are scared – scared of the pressures of modern life, scared of the challenges they face, scared of not being loved, or being wrong. We want answers. We want assurances beyond speculation or any level of doubt. To know with utmost certainty ‘This is the job to do’ ‘This is the thing to say’ ‘This is the direction of your future.’
The difficult part of life is recognising that it rarely, if ever, works this way: there are some stories, such as the inspiration that grips an artist in the night to produce something breath-taking … but most of the time creativity must be cultivated just as any other discipline. Uncovering, understanding, taking part in the world takes place with the assumption of our own ignorance – or more positively, our capacity to learn.
The knee-jerk response was followed in the night by a second thought: You and Thomas will be growing together. His care and responsibility becomes part of my growth as a person. To attempt to care for him – and occasionally miss the mark – will teach us both about our humanity, our needs, and our relationship. I felt in that second thought a presence of greater compassion and maturity: this system where forgiveness is made possible by recognition of our errors. There could be some Divine book on high that tells us every step that will yield the greatest wealth, the least discomfort, the most joy; but anyone who plays a game knows its joy resides in the playing.
Life rarely gives us the 100% satisfaction. Miguel de Unamuno once reflected: “Life is doubt,
And faith without doubt is nothing but death.” We may crave ultimate knowledge, but living is the slow reveal of the world. It is where wonderment resides.
Thomas eventually settled down, and so did I. Even at two months old, he had already taught me so much.