I have never forgotten truly falling for the first time.
When do babies begin to walk? I must have been less than a year old, and I was learning to stand.
My parents would let me lean on the footrest and let go of me for a few moments at a time. I was okay with this, because every time I began leaning over, even though I couldn’t right myself, their hands would.
I was secure, innocent, free from danger.
They also loved taking videos of me using that old camcorder that was the most modern household item back in ’99. My mom set me up against that footrest and let the tape start running. I knew what it did, and why my parents were doing it, because I had seen videos on the little screen that flipped out of the device, and I had also seen those same videos on the television screen, and had recognized scenes from what I was doing earlier. I understood that I was part of a show – or a story, with the occasional narration provided by mom or dad, but it was fine with me, as long as the lens didn’t interfere with the attention I got from my family.
Like quantum theory, I knew that I, the particle, was being observed and recorded, but I had Deus ex machina on my side – no dice. Safe.
She was sitting on the ground, on the other side of the footrest, with a camcorder lens pointed at me. My mom called my name, and I wanted to show her – and the record – that I could stand. But I began to lose my center of gravity, and if I had been able to speak at that age I would have cried out for help.
In that moment, I looked to my mom for help, but she was in the same position as before. She didn’t know that I was on the verge of a fall.
I hoped so hard that she would see, and would put her arms behind me at the last second, so when I found myself on the carpet of our Pasadena apartment, I cried not because of the pain, but because I felt alone.
I’ve viewed that video as an older human, and so have my siblings. To others, it’s just a clip of a baby toppling over, followed by the voice of my mother saying “oh-oh”. We laugh, because her face is completely expressionless and her body helpless, almost like she didn’t know she was falling.
That’s because I didn’t believe I would. The last thing I saw before I was on the floor were those dreadful camera lens. I had never hated an object more in my lifetime thus far, for creating a barrier between me and my mother – for taking up the hands that should have been there for me.
I still remember hoping she would toss that metal box aside to catch my fall, but as I teetered, I understood that it wouldn’t happen.
It was the most disappointing moment in my life.
I remember hearing that “oh-oh” and thinking, “too late.” It hurt, but it was hardly physical. Something had changed, because from that time onward, I knew that I could never trust anything with all my heart, not even the arms of my own mother to catch me.
I realized my life was my own to experience and understand – I was the one who did the processing, and I was the one to save my own skin.
I realized that adults were not omniscient.* I realized that sometimes they might be distracted from me – that the world might not even revolve around me (although at that time, my parents’ world did).
I couldn’t put this into words at that age, but I perceived it intuitively in a moment** and stored it as a memory, now finally realized as text. Not even my parents know that I remember that half of a minute so clearly, but it was a turning point – perhaps the first one ever – in my life.
In my childhood, I wasn’t afraid of much. Not heights, nor the dark, nor insects and arachnids, nor open heart surgery. Perhaps because it had been implanted in my psyche that nothing could make me feel a certain way unless I let it, and that I was the one with the control over what happened to me.***
My first fall made me realize that I had autonomy.
*I’ve talked about how the person I trust in the most is fallible. Surely that means I can’t trust anything? Yes, except for my Lord and Savior. Everything that I have said – that I am alone in my experiences, that I have to save myself, that not everyone is focused on me – is the opposite with Him. I know that in the world, I will be let down time after time by everyone and anything, except for Jesus. Into His arms I will freely fall. I believe that my God experiences my emotions and thoughts stronger than I – that He understands me better than I understand myself, and obviously so, because I was made in one of the facets of His image. I believe that my Lord would have come down to earth and died for me if I was the only human left on it. He is the only one who will never disappoint.
**Sometimes I think that language is limiting in speed. It’s how we communicate to each other, sure, but before I learned language, I thought so quickly and with intuition and feeling. I can’t help but feel that I am hindered by words. It’s increasingly harder for me to think without words but rather with abstractions and images. It’s sad to lose that as I’m getting older.
Perhaps this is why I’ve become to intent on learning a new language – French. I force myself to not think of the sentence in English beforehand, so that the meaning lies latent in my brain until the proper sentence forms to channel its expression. When I try to “think” in French, my mind becomes almost like that of a child again. Knowledgeable, but spontaneous.
***This is not completely true. We are violated against our will all the time; some times are more severe than others. But we do have free will in how we choose to react to things that go both according to our will and against it.