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In Motion

The baby learned to walk – ah! The freedom of it! Tentative steps for a month, and then, seemingly suddenly, the determination palpable, the joy uncontainable, the falls inevitable, she is on the move. Most radical, I imagine, must be the change in perspective, from feet to knees, from the steady lines and right angles of carpets and table legs to the vast expanse of air and space between the objects perceived from two feet off the ground.

She looks to me like the vision of a dream my father had, when, as a grown man, he went skiing for the first time, and, after a cold day of carving wide turns on Vermont’s icy slopes, he slept soundly, dreaming of flying.

Bumbling elegance. Blocks, shoes, and her sister’s dolls, dwellers of the now-remote realm of floor, once studied scientifically, intimately, are now constant obstacles on her path, that of all-consuming movement, a-shimmer with the distant twinkling of objects on low shelves and tables, the treasures of the Promised Land.

Avivah Zornberg, in her book The Particulars of Rapture, cites an essay by Adam Phillips, from his work On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored. The essay quotes Sartre (in Being and Nothingness) who discusses someone confronted with an overhanging rock face while on a walk.

For the simple traveler, who passes over this road and whose free project is a pure aesthetic ordering of the landscape, the crag is not revealed either as scalable or not scalable; it is manifested only as beautiful or ugly.

Phillips comments:

If I am simply on a walk, the rock face is an obstacle; if I am a painter, it is not. But the absurd – the psychoanalytic – possibility…is that I may realize I am on a walk only when I perceive the cliff as an obstacle. That is to say, the only way to discover your projects is to notice – to make conscious – what you reckon are obstacles…The desire does not reveal the obstacle; the obstacle reveals the desire.

I watch the baby glide from room to room, and she is beautiful. When I am not in motion, I am the simple traveler, the painter, the mother, standing to the side, observing her journey, dreaming, as I watch her fly, of flight.

But, when I am in motion, when I’m on my walk, this baby is my crag and that crag is my obstacle, and I must determine – scalable or not scalable – in order to survive. Then must I pick her up, and tuck her under my arm, and run down the stairs, and out the door, and she, eyes-wide, knowing, and not knowing the desire for flight, and its obstacles.

–Maya Bernstein