After 42 Years, I Still Don’t Have the Answer to the Universe

The older I get, the less I realize I know. Let’s face it, it would be challenging to find me more self sure than when I was 9 years old, during which age I’d insist it was not only possible to have all of the knowledge in the world in one human brain, but also that I would accomplish the feat. Such precociousness! Turns out that knowledge gathering is onerous, filled with all this foundational base stuff before anything really fascinating comes up. Want to master painting? Here’s a lesson on perspective. Love to know French? First you have to learn elementary vocabulary and grammar rules. Nobody jumps to particle physics without first hearing about that Sir Newton dude and the apple on his head.

So perhaps patience has been an issue of mine, in that like, I have little of it. At least my expectations for most everything else have drifted toward the realistic. I can’t know everything. I can in fact only know the tiniest shavings of a thing, and my ability to understand those droplets is fallible, mutable, susceptible to the flaws of memory and time and that foundational perspective. Yet in this knowing about knowing I can at least scrape together a little honesty. It is something of a conduit to my own humility, and in great contrast to my previous certainly about my intellectual prowess. So thank you, meta-knowing.

Part of what keeps me honest is all of the chasing after Emile, trying to see the world through his very young eyes. Taking a walk down the block runs us close to an hour, and trust me, there are not a lot o things between our front door and the telephone pole at the edge of the street. Pine cones, twigs, small batches of annuals, driveway gravel, these are all full of endless possibilities for exploration. Emile is in heaven as soon as his sandals hit the cement.

I admit it—I don’t know much at all. But here is some stuff that rattles around in my brain and that has helped me over the years:

  1. Very few things are actually black & white. One should get suspicious if someone insists on an either/or, all/none, good/evil approach, solution, or argument.
  2. Letting go is hard but it gets easier with practice.
  3. It is, most of the time, not about you.
  4. Pine cones are usually worth picking up, especially if it makes you pause on your walk.
  5. History looks a lot different when you talk to someone who was there or who is directly affected by it.
  6. Licking a steak knife is a great example of risk vs. reward.
  7. Be an active listener at least twice every day.
  8. You can generally find someone smarter than you and someone not as smart as you, taller than you, and shorter than you, more loved than you, and less loved than you. And the reason to note these distinctions is to help you remember to have interest, sympathy, concern, and kindness for the people around you.
  9. Always leave open the possibility that one little new detail could change all of your presumptions in a nanosecond.
  10. It’s hard to get anywhere if you have to continually justify your position or existence.
  11. The quietest people in the room are often the ones with the most carefully thought out opinions.
  12. There is nothing wrong with a cup of coffee to get charged up.
  13. Offering sympathy to someone and setting boundaries from them are not mutually exclusive actions.
  14. Make time for candy, poems, and phone calls.
  15. An often-used library card is a wonderful thing.
  16. Having a plan for making donations to worthy causes is energy well spent. And donations doesn’t only mean money.
  17. Keep a journal of some kind, and make a point to reread it from time to time.
  18. Mentoring a child can really make a difference in their life.
  19. Treat strangers as if they know you, and make friends your chosen family.
  20. A list is a nice way to reflect on your priorities.

Forgive me for my attempts to be pithy. These are actual thoughts that pervade my thinking. And like my list would demonstrate, I’m sure others have their own incredibly helpful ideas about navigating through the world. They might not think of them as lists, but that’s my inclination. I’m the guy who makes a to-do list with one or two items that I’ve already accomplished, so I can cross them out immediately and feel a modicum of momentum. I’m two days into my 43rd year, and I finally am not in a rush to get anywhere. These slow walks with Emile and his pine cones are small spots of perfection in my week. And it is a genuine wish of mine that we all get to have peace and time to regroup. How genuine? Well, I’ll make a certificate of authenticity if it helps.

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3 Comments on “After 42 Years, I Still Don’t Have the Answer to the Universe”

  1. Diana
    June 6, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Great list. Some good advice for me to remember. Also, I like what you did with the title.

  2. June 7, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Who says there’s just one answer. Looks like you’ve got a good start with these 20!

    • evmaroon
      June 14, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      Thanks, Diana and Sarah!

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