From the Mouths of Babes, Pt. 1

I’ve reckoned my lil’ ol’ blog is read by the most important people! My Mom and a couple friends, sometimes. So it might be a stretch to think Parts 2 thru 100+ are going to come from my readership, but that’s the idea. OK, if I think of more, I’ll put ’em in. In the meantime, here are a couple, the latter of which is my main point in composing this post.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my kids in the kitchen, especially in the mornings, mostly on weekends. Veronica and I have made thousands of pancakes, which both kids have recently decided are not very good, in spite of the more than thousands of chocolate chips that went in ’em. But my first kid comment of note comes from Charlie who used to observe my myriad ministrations in making coffee during those many breakfast rituals. One day, years ago now, he said something about “the coffee dirt.”

Immediately after incorrectly correcting him, I realized the accuracy of his assessment. They don’t get to be “grounds” until they’re used up. Until then, they’re just dirt. They look like dirt, they feel like dirt, and to a kid they probably smell like dirt. In fact, they are the ore of morning, the tilth of a new day, the rare earth upon which we will build our castles of inspiration and promise and another precious spin of our dirt in the sky, in a cup, in the imagination…

It might have been whilst bespattering my bathrobe with pancake mix that Veronica utterd her ‘babe quote,’ but it happened more than once and it has gone down in family lore. Like lots of inquiring parents, we peppered our children and their breakfasts with questions. Rather than responding with “I don’t know,” Veronica would say, “I can’t know.”

Now those same inquiring parents might retort, “yes you can,” even “yes you will.” And if an overpriced university education wouldn’t provide the knowledge, they’d have the kid just “Google it,” so that she, he, all can and will know. However, I’ve come to question that idea and perhaps agree with my baby girl when she says “I can’t know.” And more importantly, that’s OK, even preferred!

Socrates was famous for admitting his ignorance. History teachers like myself, and all academics for that matter, ought to at least admit “I can’t know for sure,” or I don’t know everything,” or “what I do know might be wrong,” or even admit that Donald Rumsfeld had some not very sharp points. Thick, rich, three dimensional, absolutely verifiable truth is a rare anywhere. What do you know for sure? Can you know anything completely?

So from the mouth of this babe (old man with a keyboard that I may be), we can’t know and that’s OK, it’s natural, it’s preferred. Love your innocence. Cherish awareness of ignorance. Question everything, especially authority. Which news is fake, what lies did your teacher tell you, how are your paradigms false, what spindly, pathetic shred of a thread of truth are you hanging your opinions on?

We can’t know, but we can keep trying, keep asking questions, questioning answers, answering the phone, and cross-checking our Google results. If you can’t know, don’t believe, but don’t leave. The desk, the pew, the prayer rug are places for the sacred questions. The babe in the woods calling to the void, “who, what, where, how, why am I?”

Bring more curiosity than skepticism to the answer, and ask more.

Of course now, Veronica seems to know, but she doesn’t always appreciate my questions when I don’t, or can’t…

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