"Got the card?"
"Got the present?"
"Got the labels?"
"Ok, let's go," and they rustled out of the door.
Rupert and Jane were excited, if somewhat nervous, at the prospect of another baby in the family. But, all had apparently gone well, Rupert's sister was ok, and they were about to meet their new nephew.
The drive was a blur, how exciting this all was, how happy they felt!
They parked up and rushed to the ward. As they arrived, through the window, there they all were – mother, father and son.
"Oh wow!" exclaimed Rupert.
Straight away he got out the card, present and enough labels for everyone as they entered the room.
All greeted, embraced, and marveled at the site of this beautiful, silent baby. Having a new baby was extra special in this world, since it was completely free from labels. It had no labels on it! Everyone else has their labels stuck to them, like big post-it notes.
For example, Rupert had a label of "not good enough" stuck on to him by his teacher when he was twelve, and he could never take it off. If you believe in your label, you see – it will stick. If you don’t believe your label, you can easily take it off whenever you like.
Jane had a "brilliant" label stuck on her shoulder by her mum when she was five, but one of her friends had stuck a "stupid" label over half of it.
But these are just a few examples. Most people in this world are covered in labels! You can barely see them anymore, they are just covered in definitions, stories, dreams, hopes, regrets, successes, and failures, all stuck on top of each other!
Rupert's dad, Charlie, arrived soon after. Charlie had a huge label right where his heart was. It read "too shy", and was put on by his own dad when he was a boy. Charlie always hated that label. His attempts to remove it had always failed, and so he had covered it up with his own label, which said: "not shy at all".
"Hi everyone!" shouted Charlie as he entered the room in a kind but over-compensating manner.
"Hi Charlie," responded the group, welcoming him in.
"Wow wow wow!" exclaimed Charlie, his eyes alight with wonder at this fresh, pure baby.
And so it began, the group would each take a label, write down a word or two, and gently place it on the baby. They were all very positive – "beautiful", "miraculous", "amazing", "perfect", to name a few. They were very small labels, quite harmless. They would fall off easily if the baby moved, nothing would stick, but this was to be expected, of course.
There was a great warmth in the room, some chatter of how it had all gone, immediate plans etc., when suddenly a man walked in.
All members of the party turned to look at the visitor, and they all fell completely silent. They were shocked, even somewhat disturbed.
This man had no labels. They still could not get used to it. It was actually Rupert's younger brother. Just a few months ago he was covered in labels, completely normal, until he started to say that his labels were becoming uncomfortable. Charlie will never forget the day that his own son, a young man, asked him, "Dad, what would it be like without all these labels?"
Charlie still felt moved by the memory of it as he sat there in that hospital room. Mixed feelings of despair and elation arose in him, with some confusion as well as pride. The memory replayed in Charlie's mind, and it cast back to when he was standing in his kitchen, speaking to his son...
"Without labels? What? What do you mean?" laughed Charlie, inwardly scoffing at his son's ridiculous question. After all, who would want rid of their own labels? They at least offer you a bit of protection against all the other ones, the even worse ones!
"I mean," replied his son, "what would happen if I stopped believing in all these labels people had given me, and I had given myself? I didn’t have them when I was born did I?"
"No of course not," replied Charlie blankly, still not understanding his son's point.
"And when I die they will all drop off won’t they?"
"Yes, but don’t think about that, that’s ages away..."
"How do you know how far away death is?" interrupted his son. "You don’t actually know, you are just assuming, you've even got it on your arm there," he pointed to his dad's arm, "'live to about 70' – it says, who put that there?"
"Well I put it on there after I watched the news," explained Charlie, assuring his son he had good reason.
"Well I've had enough," said his son, firmly. "I'm tired of these things stuck all over me, and I see no reason to leave them on. I'm also fed up of having to carry my labels around to put on to other people as well."
"How are you gonna work or survive without your labels? What friends are you going to have?" questioned Charlie, feeling this would let his son keep at least some of his labels. After all, labels were possessions, and who would want to lose their possessions?
"Haven't you heard that if you take off all of your labels, you will die?" remembered Charlie, realising he had not thought about this fact for ages.
Charlie got a label out, wrote on it and stuck it on his son. It read: "My son, who would be mad to remove all of his labels!"
But this label did not stick. After a second it dropped to the floor. There and then Charlie witnessed something he had never seen, which he found quite uncomfortable, and at first, extremely distressing. His son began to take off his own labels.
His son seemed to struggle at first – it felt a bit uncomfortable, almost painful – but soon he felt lighter, and he began to feel more free. The more labels he removed, the better he felt, and the more he realised that if anything, they were all just obstructions in his life. He started to see labels on him he had completely forgotten about, that had been covered up by other ones. All the labels that seemed to contradict each other, condemn or praise him, all began to drop off, now of their own accord. He was no longer trying to take them off, they were all just falling to his feet!
"No!" cried Charlie, "don't!" as he scribbled and threw another label in his son's direction.
"Don’t worry," replied his son, as he put down his bag of labels he had saved up for other people. As Charlie begged his son to stop, all labels had left his son but one. Only the first label ever put on him remained – his name.
"Thank you Father," he said. "Thank you for everything." The last label detached itself and fluttered to the ground.
He stood there. Free. He was still there, but he felt alive now. He could breathe freely. He didn’t have to reference any labels on himself, or need to worry for their discomfort.
Charlie became suddenly overjoyed – his son was still alive! He was still there, and he seemed to be fine!
"Oh my son you're ok!" he exclaimed in a happy relief, "Are you ok? What is that like?"
His son did not reply with a word, but instead smiled and looked deeply into his father's eyes, before simply hugging him.
Since that day, Charlie’s son no longer carried labels with him. People would try to stick some of theirs on him, but he didn’t mind, because they no longer stuck. Some people admired him for his lack of labels, he looked so innocent and free, while others thought he had just gone completely mad. What most people noticed was that although he on the one hand appeared vulnerable – because he had no labels to protect him anymore – the way he carried himself was with a supreme air of safety, without any apparent arrogance.
Back in the hospital room, Charlie had regained his focus into the present...
"Hi," the label-less man said, as he entered.
"Oh, hi," said everyone else, relieved to see it was one of their loved ones, rather than an unlabelled lunatic.
The man sat down next to his brother, Rupert. Rupert felt too uncomfortable next to someone with no labels. He had to get up and walk around for a bit. He felt like if he sat there too long, he would lose all of his own labels!
Jane, however, loved sitting next to this man. Sometimes she would just be sitting next to him, or even speaking with him, and some of her labels would just drop off, particularly the heavier ones. And this, she enjoyed.
After a short while this mysterious, yet deeply peaceful man spoke again. "May I meet my new nephew?" he asked. Everyone found him so strange because even though he spoke labels aloud and seemed to use them in his speech, he never actually placed a label on to anyone. How was that possible?
"Yes, of course," the mother replied warmly, kindly handing over the baby.
"I suppose you think we should all put our labels away do you?" asked Rupert, with a slightly accusational tone.
The man did not reply for a while. He was simply looking at this child.
"Do as you wish, my brother," he eventually replied. "Whether you place a label on to someone or not is irrelevant. All that matters is whether the person you are sticking the label to believes it or not. You have seen that your labels do not stick well at the moment, since the baby has no ideas about itself. As it learns language and communication skills, it will naturally assume that the labels it is given are correct, and so they will stick more easily."
Rupert looked blank, but the whole room was quietly listening to the label-less man speak, who continued: "When it realises, however, that the labels were never real, merely words on paper that remained there due to the power of belief, then it is free to do what it likes with them. It may keep some, get rid of others, make new ones that suit it better, or it may get rid of the whole lot. It is completely up to him, not you or anyone else!" He smiled deeply and finished by laughing: "Your labels have no power of their own!"
Rupert could barely follow these words, but was actually slightly annoyed that his brother had not told him to put his labels away. And of course his labels had power – that was just a nonsense remark! He really wanted to put a new label on to his brother, just to understand him a bit better, so he would be like the brother he had always known and loved. But he knew by now there was no point. Still, he felt a slight calmness knowing he no longer had to bother writing on labels, at least for this one person.
The label-less man returned the baby to its mother, whilst uttering the words "thank you" and "well done". As the minutes went by, the family resumed their label-making, not realising that no one had written a single label whilst their most recent visitor had been holding the baby.
Labels were moving here and there, to and fro, quite a spectacle to witness. The label-less man simply sat watching, in silent wonder, at the miraculousness of this new child, to which no label could stick.