by Jeremy Nulik
It’s hot out, and I’m standing just feet from the Norfolk Southern St. Louis line. Even though it is not in view, you can already hear far off horns of an approaching diesel engine. My domicile is close to the line, and since I have been working from my house more often over the past 18 months, I have become familiar with this sound about 11 times each day.
On any given day, for at least one of those 11 times, I find myself standing where I am now — right next to the line. It is not because I have ever had an affinity for trains. In fact, for most of my life, I found freight trains to be an annoyance.
The reason I am standing among the thistles on July-hot rocks is because of the pleading of the toddler with whom I dwell. This same heat-generating toddler is presently on my shoulders. Atticus (two-years-old) is fascinated with the “choo-choo.” When he hears something that even sounds remotely like a train, no matter where we are, he wants to get as close as possible. He wants to feel it rumble. The quality of his noise lexicon changes as the different cars pass. Some hiss. Some rattle. Some whoosh.
Every train is joy. Every train is chocolate-chip, triple-dip ice cream. It is magical. Every. Single. Time.
This level of excitement conflicts with my western educated adult brain. I have curated a taxonomy for joyful things and serious things. I have separated my body from my mind. My categorizations make it easier to optimize, to find patterns, and to rationalize.
But as the great world spins ever-increasing complexities, I have been forced into being more teachable. Within me, there is an unlearning taking place. There is something here (standing next to the railroad tracks) that makes sense at a deeper level of integration than I have ever experienced. It so happens that I am being shown this meaning through the behavior of a human with far fewer moons.
(I must admit I am cynical of the motivations of those who use their children as the basis for business bromides. The insight can usually be reduced to either, “Gully, kids say the darnedest things” to “Look at what a super-parent I can be!” Thankfully, I do not suffer either of those particular delusions. Not generally and, at least, not in this column.)
I did want to share this moment with you, because I think it may be something for more than just me.
We often think back on childhood with a kind of fondness. There is awe around every corner. We become flush with a nostalgia. Many of us begin to only select the memories that will prop up our “it was the best of times” thesis.
However, it is also true that, for a child, the world can be tyrannical and terrifying — both in its form and its behavior. Nothing is your size. Nothing makes sense. Things are bright, loud, and full of random restrictions.
Those conditions likely sound familiar. I think it is how a lot of us are feeling right now. Just when we think we have accommodated, we find a new reason for (seemingly righteous) anxiety.
As an antidote to this anxiety, I offer a compelling mindset. It runs to the big, scary thing and not from it. It has to do with embracing the uncertainty and being curious of its contour and shape. It is getting as close as you can and loving fullness of even the things that, at first, frighten us. This mindset takes comfort in realizing that you have faced the unprecedented before. You have been surrounded by a world that does not make sense. And you made it.
Today, here is what I am offering to myself, and, by extension, you:
“Stop making sense. Stop optimizing. Stop forcing order. Do not give into the siren song of crackpot realism. You really don’t know. It’s all right. No one does. LOOK! CHOOO-CHOOOOO!”
Jeremy Nulik (email@example.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.