I often try to look into my son’s soul, to understand who this growing, independent person is.
I’m not always sure what I’m seeing.
The times he spends with me one-on-one, he can be insightful, even wise; he comes up with solutions I can’t, he applies the things I tell him in unexpected ways.
Of course he can be silly, too, and manages to drag out descriptions of the perfect goal (his or someone else’s, doesn’t matter) to the point that I completely loose track of the subject. But for the most part, he is and has been for as long as I can remember, a fun little companion. I’m always reassured when parents volunteering at the school or hosting him for sleepovers say the same thing.
Then there are the reports from camps, teachers, some extracurricular activities. Tales of a bright but disruptive boy who does what he can to be the centre of attention. Pleas to me to remind him to be less silly, less overwhelming.
He’s not bad, they say, and yet the calls and emails do express some frustration. Are these systems simply not set up for rambunctious boys? Is this just the norm, something parents of boys have heard for generations? Do I, on those days that I worry about it, just take it all too much to heart?
I think about this question a lot, this “who is this person?” question. I try to look past the version of him that he offers me when it’s just us, when he has this adult’s full attention. I try to see who he truly is.
But the view I have of him is unreliable. It is shadowed by my own perceptions – of him, of life, of myself – and by the light he chooses to shed on parts of himself, while stowing the other parts in the darkness, just out of my sight.
And maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s the way a person develops their independence, their sense of self. This could be an important process I’ve been watching unfold.
I’m thinking about all of this as I lie in bed, looking at the night sky through our open blind. The moon is a thin sliver tonight, just barely rising above the skyline. I can see its dark side, too, but only just. Venus shines brightly higher up in the sky.
I am struck by the beauty of the thin sliver as it floats serenely, glowing golden, so thin, its dark side glows, too, if darkness can glow. It’s a simple, everyday sight, easy to look at without seeing, to take for granted. But every now and then if you really stop and look you see more, you see the deeper things in that orb.
I’m really looking now, and it’s hard to be sure about any of the details I think I see in that mostly-dark side. It is a darkness that is pregnant and full and seems to threaten to overwhelm the small sliver of light floating along attached to it.
Before I have a chance to find out whether the darkness will win or if that bit of brightness can hold on and grow, the moon touches down on the roof of the cityscape. Then, so quickly I almost wonder if it was ever even there, it slips behind the buildings and disappears, leaving only Venus shining brightly – easily mistaken for a large, vibrant star – in the expanse of night.
All of these things – the moon, Venus, my son – are perceived differently from the way they actually are. The observer will never see its subject the way the subject sees itself. We can only watch from our own perspective.
Venus is not a star.
The moon is in darkness because it is shadowed by us. The only parts we mere mortals know are those parts we manage to see when we get out of the way and let the sun shine on them, however fleetingly.
Like the moon, there are multiple aspects to people; we can never know them the way they know themselves. We can’t be sure whether they are more darkness or more light, or simply different than our perceptions.
The best we can do is stand back, appreciate the beauty, observe what we can see, and let as much of who they are shine back at us.