I believe in knowing

Barbara - Bethesda, Maryland
Entered on March 17, 2009

I believe in knowing. I don’t mean knowing all the answers, or “knowing” that there’s an afterlife, or knowing the right thing to do. I mean “knowing”, as opposed to “not knowing” and going through the motions until you eventually find the answer. Let me put it this way. I believe in knowing, as opposed to hoping. I don’t believe in hoping that things will work out, or hoping that the better side of people will win over. Been there, done that, and it’s a colossal waste.

I have to admit that there is a certain seductiveness about ambiguity. It could be this or it could be that. You may get lucky or you may end up paying big time. In literature, for example, ambiguity is definitely a plus – what would writers of detective novels, literary critics, or even philosophers and lawyers, do without ambiguity? Millions of pages devoted to the subtle shadings of meaning, the chiaroscuro of images, the possibilities of a text, pregnant with meaning, just waiting for the right person to decipher the implications.

I shouldn’t be so flip about ambiguity. I spent my graduate career and part of my professional life interpreting ambiguity – learning to read meta-text and figure out what people weren’t saying. It’s a good skill. And I believe in questions – we should question everything, including, of course, what we know.

But when it comes to everyday life, I prefer to know, as in ‘give it to me straight’. Don’t fill me with possibilities or hopeful scenarios. Tell me what I’m up against and let me figure out how to deal. My friend BJ, wrote that it is not, in the final analysis, what you don’t know that can or cannot hurt you. It is what you don’t know you don’t know that spins out and entangles ‘that perpetual error we call life’.

My point precisely. When you don’t know that you don’t know, you’re in trouble.

I didn’t always believe in this. About 20 years ago, some abnormal blood tests indicated that I was a candidate for a serious auto-immune disorder. My doctor told me that thanks to the excellent state of my health, I might just spend the rest of my life as a candidate and never get elected. Doubt and worry took hold for about six months, after which nothing changed, so I went back to regular exercise and being perfectly happy not to know.

Ten years later, I developed a very minor symptom that moved me into a higher-risk category. My doctor told me nothing was written in concrete. It didn’t have to happen. People beat the odds all the time. Doubt, more worry, and eventual adjustment: I reached a comfortable cruising altitude and learned to live with the hope that my discipline, my exercise, my strong character, and my positive attitude would make me a winner. Go me!

Five years later I won the Gold. The disease whose name I couldn’t even utter smacked me in the face with such force that it took my breath away. That’s a joke – I had major lung damage. I’ll spare you the stages everyone goes through – denial, anger, depression. Blah blah blah. What I didn’t expect was the relief that ultimately came with knowing. I know. I know what I have, I know what the odds are, I know what I have to do. And I’m doing it. Actually, I’m doing it well. Geez, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that almost sounds hopeful.