“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
These days have found me furrowing my brow, full of questions. It seems as the summer unfolds more and more fully around me,from left and right, from morning till night, there are so many things about which I feel, well, ignorant.
This realization began, I think, with the Olympics. As I sat and watched the opening ceremony my Anglophile spirit was lifted far above the ground. I loved the music and the telling of a part of Britain’s rich history which included places I feel blessed to have seen with my own two eyes, places that tug at my heart strings. And yet with the entrance of the teams the ignorance set in. How can there be so many countries I have never heard of before? How can I consider myself a world citizen and not know the names of the homes of my fellow travelers? As I watched these gifted athletes proudly wave their flags, I felt chastised by my lack of knowledge about their homelands.
On a more local level, I have been observing something else that has me scratching my head at all I don’t know. In the yard of an apartment building near our house there have been the most amazing mushroom-like formations that have grown out of the ground. They are huge and have formed a sweet, little half circle under a tree. Some are nearly as big as a dinner plate. What caused them to come into being? In just that place? In these days? Was it the heat teamed with the drenching rains we’ve had? Or is there something in that soil that causes them to be? As I have observed them now over several days, I have imagined seeing them with the eyes of a child. Surely fairies must live under something so exquisite, so unique!
As if my head was not full of enough questions, this morning’s experience took the cake. I had not been awake for very long when I became aware of the shrill and constant sound of crows cawing unlike I have ever heard before. It was so loud it was disturbing. The sound was coming from a tree near a backyard neighbor’s house. Coffee in hand, I walked outside to see if I could get a sense of what was happening. The crows filled the tree. Every now and then one or two of these black beings lifted off the tree and circled in the air only to swoop right back and perch on another limb. I saw no other bird and no other animal under the tree, either of which might have given rise to such a ruckus.
For more than ten minutes I stood watching and listening to this chorus of crows. My mind was racing with questions. Why were they all gathered in this particular tree? What was causing them to cry out with such intensity? How had they known to gather? Why don’t I know more about the behavior of this common bird?
For some reason these experiences have provided a backdrop of reflection for me. Most of the time we travel in the world in circles where we have some expertise. Either through education or training or experience, we go about the tasks of our day having a pretty good idea of what it happening and why. Many times this translates into an ability to go from task to task, moment to moment, day to day, without much forethought of what is truly going on in the world around us.
And then every now and then something happens that reminds us of all there is yet to learn. Out of the corner of an eye we have a glimpse of something new, an adventure yet to taken, a question that begs to be answered. In those moments we are invited once again into the realm of the child where newness is alive and possibilities seem endless, where nothing is rote or routine.
Sometimes all it takes is the pronouncement of the name of a tiny island unheard of till that very minute. Or the sight of a stupendous, ivory fungus. Or the brilliant song of a gathering of crows.