“We know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognize that we don’t.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
I am a very prideful person, and I do not like to be told the things I already know, or (heaven forbid) be thought ignorant.
As I sat across from this man, who was rattling off platitudes I had heard too many times before. I was tired of the simple answers, and didn't like to be thought ignorant (there's that old pride). I felt my eyes grow dark, and the space between my eyebrows crinkle together, and I felt a scream of frustration choke up in my throat.
So I took a deep breath, and thought to myself: What are you expecting, Renée? What sort of answers do you think you deserve, that are more advanced than the simple truths that apply to everyone? Really. Why do you think there are mysterious, esoteric answers, hidden from the children and the simple, reserved for you?
Perhaps wisdom is listening to the same simple truths over and over again, and having the humility to understand that there are no other answers. There is no way around the truth that you cannot understand your life until you have finished it; that often the story of our lives is a narrative spun with the warp of strange choices and coincidences into the weft of confusion. There is great mercy in antecedent and permissive Divine Will, and great wisdom to be gained in remembering the difference between the two. There is great humility in accepting all the silver linings, no matter how seemingly small, as graces.
And I failed, as I stewed in my seat, to find the wisdom to listen to the hackneyed word being sown on my ears. I bucked against hearing all the familiar apothegms I had heard before. Disappointed, my eyes filled with tears, as I realized I was back at the beginning, in familiar stomping grounds of the well-trod spiral path. I realized that this road would be longer than I had anticipated, and I would have to keep searching for answers. And that search would probably lead me back to the very same answers this man was proposing--the truths that are unchanging, but so very hard to truly plumb.
And I felt lighter, as I looked at him, and made my best effort to let go of all the bitterness coiled up inside me like a viper. I breathed, and tried to breathe into my heart space for some humility. Space for seed to fall that was not choked by weeds.
To be a human means to be misunderstood, I think, but even more it means to misunderstand. We spend most of our days trying to communicate with each other, and ninety percent of the time, we bungle the job completely. Somehow, if you maybe dig a bit deeper, and listen just a little more, then you can find understanding, in the midst of all the misunderstanding. And that is actually quite miraculous, actually. That we, bent little hnau, can understand each other at all. The miracle of my eyes meeting yours and a bond of communion passing between us is astounding. There are so many signals that could misfire, words that could be misspoken. But the fact that I can picture your plight, congruent to mine, is quite a feat of empathy.
My resolution for this new year of mercy is to have the humility to assume that each person who tells me something I already know is doing me the favor of facilitating a re-encounter with a truth that could stand some revisiting. Since all my knowledge is, necessarily, limited, I will not vaunt the little knowledge I already possess. The people I admire most, esteem the most, and consider the most wise are all humans who listen patiently and with humility while being told things they already know. And are usually gracious and generous enough to find something fresh and beautiful in old truths being trod out before them ad nauseum.
If you have the humility to listen to simple truths, over and over again, knowing, as all wise folks do, that the truth only becomes more beautiful each time we encounter it, you will be rewarded with something new being eternally unwrapped from the ancient.