Discernment & Child’s Play
I graduated from college in the month of December.
My orientation to transition, moves, starting new jobs, adjustments in routines and relationships, December represents that time period for me.
Six weeks before I graduated my sister died suddenly, which at the time shook me.
Shook me and left me unable to really be present to the happening adjustments, especially moving.
I got a call that I ignored, followed by several additional texts and calls that I dismissed so that I could get through a phone interview for a research paper I was writing.
Sitting in the hallway of the university’s student center with my cap and gown plastic wrapped on my lap and a notepad in my hand, I was focused on preparing for what came next.
For over an hour I delayed the news of her death reaching me, because it came as a complete disruption from my day to day experience.
I can point back to that moment specifically as the place where that focus was disrupted.
I can picture the dissonance of that afternoon, and the straddling of adjustments that didn’t piece together in what they demanded from me or deemed important.
I was walking to the metro yesterday holding a young child’s hand and we got caught in the rain.
The rain put that moment into focus, reminding me of how I’d similarly gotten caught in the rain while picking up my commencement materials in the library on my way to the student center for my interview.
I was rushing then, oriented to a full schedule, and yesterday I was leisurely, oriented to a child’s shorter strides and smaller footsteps.
I was meditating on the names of individuals who have died while experiencing homelessness.
I was meditating on our winter solstice and the shortest day of the year.
I was meditating on how much 2018 has included.
I was scanning for ways to compare different time periods like college and post college.
I was remembering my initial move to DC and the surrounding scaffolding of that time period.
I was prioritizing being present to the young child holding my hand and asking me questions.
I’ve gotten to spend one on one time with children the majority of this week, which offered me an abbreviated posture of reflection characterized by different starting questions.
Questions heard in their phrasing and choice of words.
Questions asked non-rhetorically.
Asked at the moment it’s relevant during the day, each time it’s relevant.
1) It’s not boring right?
2) What does that word mean?
3) Are you ready now?
4) Which one do you want?
As I reflect on what it has taken me to navigate inner and outer adjustments, especially emotional ones, I note a time of constant observation.
These four questions asked of me describe a process of discernment in four specific measures: engagement, clarity, timing, and intention.
For every song that played through my car speakers I would hear, “this song isn’t boring right?”
Boring in this context meant that what was being sung wasn’t something she was thinking or feeling right now, something that led to her detachment. She was listening and assessing for what she could stand to listen to, in fact, what she was willing to listen to.
Boredom isn’t just about being entertained. It’s also about knowing what you need to be a part of an interaction, especially when that’s what you’re seeking.
Boredom is also a form of disengagement, or shutting down. When we’re trying to work through something, a strong feeling, a problem to want to solve, an idea we’re still forming, we distinguish between doors we want to walk through and one’s that don’t seem interesting enough. Something has to connect in us for us to bring our energy and attention forward.
Expecting to Understand
Several hours of my week were spent in different public spaces reading aloud to a child. Every few words or so I would hear, “what does that word mean?” Words like noble, pleased, custom, soul, desolate, serpent, praise, success, mimic, at last.
New information could not be added before each part of the story was defined and clarified in examples that were meaningful and well described.
Words couldn’t be defined using other words unknown or hard to relate to; the words I used as explanation had to be understood enough that I could use it in a connected example.
I made the mistake of saying we were going next door when what I meant was, we were driving somewhere close by. When we got out of the car at the new location I heard, “that’s not what next door means”. “Next door is like when I walk to my neighbor’s house, it’s not somewhere you can’t walk to or can’t see from where you are. Next door means something different.”
When we understand fully, we recognize points of discontinuity, ambiguity, or alterations from what was explained. Comprehension combines what we knew already with what is being presented newly.
Asking a lot of questions means we understand a lot of what has been explained, and we’re listening until there is continuity that integrates it practically.
Time to Go
I value being on a schedule, and I reach a limit in my flexibility with fighting getting out the door. And still periodically I can go with the flow completely, spending the whole day at a park or in a fort of books.
Yesterday was more the latter, as there was nothing that required a schedule.
I would ask and hear, “are you ready?”, “I’m ready now”, “I’m almost ready”.
Communication was continuous and, on a continuum, waiting until the words “I’m ready now” were offered, signaling shoes being put on and jackets zipped without additional debate or delay.
Coordinating our readiness with someone else’s isn’t natural or automatic. It’s often aggravating.
But if we can be allowed to say yes, no, maybe, soon, not yet, in two minutes, in ten minutes, there is an easiness that arrives and is child directed.
Children know the difference between a question and an instruction. Asking more questions allows timing to be decided together, decided out of listening and respecting each other’s agendas.
We went to an art studio and got set up at a table. Paint pallet laid out, she starts working. A few minutes later she pauses and tries to hand me a paint brush. “Which one do you want?” I hadn’t planned on painting and tell her that I will just watch.
She offers, “I’d like for us to do this together.”
Miniature versions of this exchange happened throughout the day, more words for what my younger niece phrases as, “Come on, follow me”.
There’s a drawn distinction between what we do alone and what we do together, and invitational language inviting you to share in an activity instead of only watching or excluding yourself.
Play is not considered by children restricted for children, more accurately it is offered as a way to relate to them.
Selecting spaces and activities that engage you is a question of discernment, of friendship, and of reciprocity in an experience. It’s of interest to find ways to be involved in what each other are doing.
I don’t share their language, but I do relate to these aspects of awareness, especially being more closely responsive to what you’re observing.
Puncturing any dissonance I have built up requires me to be more observational.
Periods of grief and sudden change shrink our language and stamina for social interactions and self-awareness, making discernment a complicated and heavy lift in those periods.
And yet, if we can simplify those tasks, and have them mirrored in how others ask things of us, we can be supported in managing the overwhelm. We can be joined in connection that’s less over stimulating.
We can voice what we feel ready and not ready for, what doesn’t interest us, what we don’t understand yet, and what would allow us to reenter communal spaces.
We can be given chances to answer in small ways repeatedly, changing our mind and not having the words.
We can enter into nostalgia and melancholy that we don’t have to elaborate on or translate to ourselves.
We can be reminded of places we’ve been before, and bring lessons that have been added on to how we cope with returning there.
We can be choosier in saying yes and no, to feeling emotions, to fulfilling commitments, to learning or moving at a speed we’d want.
We can engage in what feels simple, and what feels wanted.
We can seek to understand what isn’t explainable.
We can take our time adjusting.
And we can come back when we’ve been shaken.
Not quickly, but over time.