At first I thought the scraping and groaning of metal outside our house was a plow going by, a vigilante guarding Augusta against rogue snowdrifts. But the noise continued, and I realized something odd was going on. I went to the front window and saw a large piece of heavy equipment with a small plow emerging from its belly like an alien; it was moving back and forth in front of our house, piling snow on the side of the road. If my husband hadn’t had the foresight to create a pivoting stand for our mailbox (a memorial to the previous two mailboxes, which had been destroyed by their immutability), our current box would have become a sad mass of dents like its predecessors. Fortunately, Paul’s ingenuity foiled the prodding metallic monster. I summoned my menfolk (Sage because he loves giant machines of all types, Paul because he alone could possibly identify it).
“What is it?” Paul asked as he emerged from the bedroom.
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Some kind of mutant plow.”
He took one look and patted me gently on the shoulder. “It’s a road grader,” he said, trying and failing to keep the patronizing tone out of his voice. “See how it’s widening the road by pushing the snow aside?”
I would have been highly offended had I loved him less or cared more about heavy equipment. As it was, the incident simply gave me an opportunity to reflect on how very little I know. On the face of the matter, my ignorance is quite depressing. I’m constantly surrounded by plants, animals, and (clearly) machines which remain incognito to my unknowing mind. The little black-headed birds that nested under our deck last summer were the “Disney birds” (because I thought they were cute enough to be in an animated feature); the voracious birds that occasionally swarm my feeders like something out of Hitchcock are “the little blonde birds” to me. I’m ashamed to admit that one time a few years ago, I did finally look up a bird that was hanging out by our house. I felt the rush of gratified knowledge when I finally saw what I was looking for in my guidebook, but it was quickly overwhelmed by chagrin when I realized that my mystery bird was nothing more mysterious than a sparrow.
The ever-increasing list of nameless things in my world is daunting enough; it doesn’t even include all the things I don’t know how to do. Checking my car’s oil is the most I can manage—actually CHANGING it is beyond my meager automotive abilities. And let’s not even START on my ignorance of all things electronic.
I sometimes get depressed when I think about all the things I don’t know. Even though I love learning, every bit of knowledge I accumulate seems like a grain of sand in a little castle surrounded by a sea of ignorance.
Before I get too benumbed by my shortfalls, though, I reflect that the sea that surrounds me has a double nature. It’s ignorance, yes, often embarrassing ignorance, but it’s also possibility. My lack of knowledge means that the world provides constant mysteries and constant revelations. Anything less would prove boring; like Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in Possibility.” And to me, that’s an incredibly comforting thought.
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
P.S. The picture on this posting is of Chaussette looking in the mirror for the first time. It’s not directly relevant to the content, but if you care to consider it a profound metaphor for self-examination, I shan’t object. Plus it’s cute, so I’m posting it.