Friday, August 12, 2011

The verb, to unknow

List of some things I don’t know how to do:

Fly an airplane
Kung fu
Repair a car
Compose music

And I don't know how to unknow dark somethings once I know them.

It has taken me at least a month to write of this. The idea came from a tropically large bug, a singleton who shall remain nameless, seen and dealt with by my son - and not by me - in my room immediately before I planned to fall asleep. Of course I was no longer sleepy. Of course I left the television and the reading light on and imagined stealthy guerrillas from its bug clan invading my sanctuary and my peace. Two evenings later I was finally able to sleep with the light off, but now turn it on if I have to get up during the night. No barefoot surprises, thank you.

Once I knew it had been there, nothing was quite the same. It could have been a recluse, a hermit in some dim corner for weeks (though not likely) that only began to plague me once it revealed itself. Bob Seger wrote, “...wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Boy howdy.

Other unwelcome knowings have been imposed upon me over a lifetime. Some were too first-person to evade. Others were blurted for another’s unburdening. They change everything. That they existed sub rosa while I pirouetted through my days with innocent trust makes their revelations all the more shocking. And there is no going back.

Denial is, I suppose, the popular response to unmanageable information, pretending, playing ignorant. That lid won’t stay closed for long. There can never really be enough of any substance to keep truth fully hidden once it is glimpsed leering through the window. Our hearts no longer beat with the same familiar rhythm. We grow haunted, our notion of safety shattered. We dream of taking the secret and casting it into the flames, anything to be free of its curse.

Our best hope is forgetting, or a form of it that permits a dimming of impact. Spiritual teachers express the belief that what has passed may be surrendered, leave and gnaw on me no more. Many of our adaptive skills result from having to invent ways to keep moving forward when the first choice would be to sit, weeping, until we turned to dust, to grit, which the wind would take.

Dark knowings embezzle from our stores of sleep, of serenity, of trust. Some are thugs and thieves, smacking us around and running off with our valuables. We are left trying to put the pieces together, wondering who we can call. I need to report a crime.

All this from one anonymous bug, who thought, if bugs think, that it would make its way from this shadow to that, remain unobserved a bit longer, live to scurry another day. Instead it became my reminder of spaces we have to clear when the uninvited decide to visit, the processes we learn to keep from tipping over. If any of you composing, airplane-flying kung fu master mechanics can tell me how to make knowing less grief-filled, I believe I am ready to learn.


Melissa Green said...

Dear Marylinn, a brilliant post! That little buglet invading your space didn't know it would enable you to flush out of the shadows this beautifully written essay. And oh, how well I know that verb 'to unknow'. I may have used its cousin 'to unsee' (as in once you've seen something, you can't unsee it).

Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer has a saying that's apropos to this discussion, "When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."

All the unwelcome knowings of a lifetime that are forced upon a person while you blithely pirouette through your day, not suspecting what's lurking under the porch--and once it spooks you at the window, you can't forget what you've seen, that it's still lurking and could leap up and scare you to death again.

I think you are right to separate denial from a dimming of its effect on you. Once known, we have to accept that now we see, can no longer pretend we haven't---and find a way to move past the monster. These surprise thugs and thieves of our peace pop up like Jack-in-the-Boxes--and blindside us. Life is one blindsiding after another, and they are things you can't look for ahead of time or prepare for. You have to keep walking forward, regardless, knowing what you now know that you didn't know yesterday, and trying to integrate it with everything else you know--otherwise, it's a giant anvil you have to carry on your back, which certainly impedes any forward motion.

Great piece of work, Marylinn. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you...some of our most intricate, unanswerable questions spring from such unlikely moments. Dratted suffering, bringing his own stool...and probably a tent as well.

Denial requires so much effort...not pirouetting, it is flat-out tap dancing of the most sweaty nature. I find I sometimes think of, see, myself as I was in a time before certain knowings and have the sense memory of NOT knowing, how it felt different in my body to believe and assume things were as I thought them to be. The process of integrating information and acceptance presents itself as a bowl of batter, ingredients being folded together, not whipped or beaten. Most things take time. xo

Robert the Skeptic said...

This reminds me of the now famous Donald Rumsfeld quotation about the "known unknowns, versus the unknown unknowns". He caught a lot of flack for that utterance but actually, when one thinks about it, it is quite profound.

He apparently thought so as it ended up being part of the title to his book... which I will NEVER read.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - It was certainly apt, profound for that administration (and probably most others) but didn't you always feel the floor shake from his constant tap dancing? And no, I will not read it either. Ever.

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Once during graduate school, my little houselet (I know, redundant- but it was very, very tiny) was burgled. It was almost a year before I could get to sleep before dawn. I was paralyzed with fear during the dark hours. Dwelling on it still has the power to take me back there and remember just how powerless I felt. It is interesting that something that happens once, takes over our rational thought and becomes the expected norm.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Traumatic events (my bug is not even comparable but simply the catalyst) do lodge in our bodies and minds. And how new, how present they feel when recalled. Which, I'm sure, explains why denial is found everywhere. I hope your memories have lost some of their power. xo

Antares Cryptos said...

Agree with Melissa, thought-provoking post.

Would we learn or grow if we were to unknow even the unpleasant knowledge? I am suddenly reminded of the movie "Memento" and a sub-tropically sized bug, who could only fall silent when I turned the lights on to search for him/her.

I'm sure the two will connect any moment now.;)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares - Thank you, I think it all connects already. And no, what would we learn, how would we grow, if all was only light and tra-la-la, if there was not dark nipping at us, causing us to choose the light rather than taking it for granted. :D