I’m north and west of the middle of nowhere, and there’s a fire burning, and I’m drinking gin and being baited by a Wise Wild Man of the Woods.
Wise Wild Man of the Woods: Humans screw everything up by wanting to know. You know? Taking the mystery out of everything. Why is the sky blue? It just is. Can’t we just accept that, enjoy it?
It’s tempting, isn’t it? So is religion. Certainty. Any dogma offers comfort… But, see…
Jane: No. No, we can’t. Because asking, questioning, wondering, learning—that’s the most human part of us. That’s the sapiens in Homo sapiens. Once we stop asking… we become these horrible, static, smug, dogmatic, unbearable creatures. Do you know any people who’ve “figured it all out” whom you actually like? I bet you don’t… The thing is, though, every answer we find should lead to another question. Right? That’s the process; that’s the journey.
Wise, eh? There was something in the air.
And in the company.
But what this story is really about is this:
Flora: What does IRL stand for?
Jane: In-Real-Life. As in IRL friend—in-real-life friend—versus Facebook friend.
Sean: How did you know that?
Ender: Because Mommy knows everything!
Ha. If only… Mommy knows nothing.
That’s not true, of course. Mommy knows some stuff. And, because she’s older than he is, she knows more than the four-year-old who is finding out and learning everything for the first time. But in the most basic way, the four-year-old knows he knows more than I do. I’m not talking about innate, natural wisdom here… I’m talking about certainty. When he knows something, he knows it. No ifs-buts-maybes. His life is all about certainty and black and white; there are no fuzzy edges. Bananas are delicious and hot sauce is yuck. Cars have four wheels. Boats float, planes fly. Dogs bark because they’re dogs. Mommy knows everything, Daddy can fix everything, Dziadzia’s the strongest man in the world. Exceptions are irrelevant; grey areas do not exist.
It’s an enviable place to be in. Do you remember it? Just knowing things, and being sure something is true, just because?
My nine-year-old is in the midst of losing that certainty and she’s fighting it tooth and nail. She wants to know. She wants absolutes. I thwart this desire of hers, inadvertently, in every conversation.
“Mom? It’s important to always tell the truth?”
“Well… what do you mean by truth?” her mother responds, because she knows that the question stems from someone at the playground saying something nasty and cruel and defending that statement as “true.”
“Mom? Cars are bad for the environment and everyone should drive less, right?”
“Right. But you’re asking me this question in a car, as we’re driving to a store to get groceries…. Which arrived at that store in trucks and cars and maybe planes… So it’s a much bigger, much more complicated…”
“Mom! Can’t you ever just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?”
She wants to think I know everything. And that she knows—or can know —everything. And she’s so angry when she sees I don’t… she doesn’t… she can’t…
My 12-year-old is on the cusp of that life stage when he will question everything. I am so very excited. Do you remember your teen years? This is what happens: you lose faith. Utterly. In everything. Your parents become fallible, so fallible. They know nothing. They’ve fucked everything up—their lives, the world, you. They understand nothing. Society sucks. Everything’s wrong with it, nothing works. And so, you question, search, rebel. Reinvent the wheel: lust to change the world.
If it weren’t for this click in our brains, this period of chaos… nothing would ever change, there would be no progress.
We would not be sapiens.
As they move from 13 to 17+, teenagers become dogmatic, peer-oriented, convention-bound because a state of chaos-not-knowing-always-questioning is exhausting, and certainty—of something, anything—is seductive. Soothing.
I get it. The idea of embracing uncertainty as a constant, not-knowing as THE thing… terrifying.
But I do like this concept: every answer leads to a new question.
Even though constant questioning is exhausting…
Flora frowns. “I don’t know,” she says. “When I say ‘I don’t know,” when I feel, ‘I don’t know,’ that’s pretty much the worst feeling ever.”
You, you’ve embraced this pain, fear of not knowing. We’re walking down the street and down Memory Lane, talking about who we were 15 years ago, 20 years ago, and you say, “I still don’t know. I think I’m still as lost. I’ve just made some choices, walked some paths. But do I know where I’m going? Or why? I don’t know. But I think the difference is I’m ok with not knowing.”
You are wiser, further on the path than I am. I’m not ok with not knowing. But I’m working on it.
No, I’m not ok with it, not at all. It totally sucks. I really want to know SOMETHING with utter certainty. ANYTHING.
I sit down on the floor with the four-year-old. Cars have four wheels, and boats have none. Rocks fall when you throw them. Feathers float on the air for a bit, because they are lighter than rocks. Dogs bark because they are dogs.
“I love you so much.”
“I love you more.”
“Impossible. I love you more.”
Of this, I am certain.