I believe I will never quite know,
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing.
– Mary Oliver, “Bone,” Why I Wake Early
It’s one of the hardest things for us humans to do – to accept that we can never know.
Never know what is like to die, and what comes after
Never know what is inside another’s heart, soul, mind
Never know if we made the right choice, or not
Never know if we should speak up or stay silent
Never know if what we have done made any difference at all, to anyone
Never know if things could have been different, if only
Never know if tomorrow’s tomorrow will be better than today
Never know if any of it means anything at all.
And yet, that’s all there is to know. That we can’t know. That there is no real certainty. That life itself is a giant gamble, and we don’t even know the stakes, though the terror that claws at us from within hints that they might be higher than we ever imagined.
Or perhaps the fear is that there are no stakes, never were, and we’re just hurtling around on this planet imagining that we’re here for something other than just to live for a little while, and here we are wasting time wondering if it means anything.
It’s a Sunday night, when that familiar existential dread creeps in, and all the rustling of the desiccated autumn leaves and the golden glimmer of the harvest moon are reminding us of the tenuousness of everything. Soon those drying leaves will fall and even sooner the robust moon will have shrunk away to nothing.
But among these morose thoughts, almost despite my own melancholy leanings, I recognize something else, something that I can know. Whether or not I or anyone I love is here to witness it or not, those fallen leaves will give life to something. And new leaves will grow. And the moon will again appear, first as a delicate curvature of fine silver, and then, without fail, will grow proud and full again, whether the clouds cover her or not.
So I contradict myself, or perhaps return to prove the point. I know so little that it’s almost nothing, but what I do know is enough to recognize what is precious.