“I wish I could travel by the road that crosses baby’s mind, and out beyond all bounds;
[…] Where Reason makes kites of her laws and flies them…”
-Rabindranath Tagore, “Baby’s World”
Dr. Gordon Neufeld talks about the ‘emergent process,’ the stage of human development in which someone’s interest and intent reaches out to meet the world. It’s this process that brings a child to ‘me do it’ and an adult to ‘this matters to me.’ I’ve usually imagined it as a spring, bubbling up from somewhere inside.
A few nights ago, my fourteen-month-old niece took me for a walk. Inside by the sliding glass door, she kept pointing out into the dark. She walks but she likes to be carried, too, and she’ll point and make sounds to show what she wants. When I put on her coat and carried her out, she wanted to go to the hottub, and stick in her feet, and splash. Then she wanted to go back toward the house. Something ran through the bushes, and she wanted to stand among the trees and listen for whatever it had been. She wanted to stick her feet into the cold water of the fountain, not splashing this time, and then go across the street to a neighbor’s holiday lights. She touched the lights, one by one, the colorful ones and the white ones, walking by herself back and forth between two bushes and a tree.
It was wonderful, for me, to go with her and follow where she led. I wish I could travel by the road that crosses a baby’s mind. It was wonderful to see how curious she was about the world. The fountain is 49° (I checked, later), but she put her feet in three times, stopping between each to feel the water on her toes. She stopped on the sidewalk, slipping down to hands and knees to explore the stark shadow painted by a streetlamp above her. When deer ran by, she wanted to go over to them, but they were much faster than we were. I said, “Bye, deer,” and she stayed there on the street, watching where they had gone, watching me, and every now and then saying with happy, quiet certainty,
Bye, I think.
I think I’d missed, until that walk, how much the emergent process is about meeting the world. It’s not just upwelling me: it’s me coming out to touch what’s there. The water, the cement, the lights.
Where Reason makes kites of her laws and flies them. Reason and thinking through and discovering, all those are good. I would do some research to make a kite that worked, and some of the materials I needed and the laws I followed would be rigid. But they wouldn’t be the end in themselves. A kite, once its flying, lifts up from making hands to rest on the sky’s changing currents. Perhaps the laws are for lifting. Perhaps me is really me meeting.