All That We Don’t Understand
For weeks after my younger brother died, many years ago, he came to me at night, always at the hour of his death. He would enter the room when I slept, gently, and I would waken, and we would spend time together. We didn’t talk. But those hours resolved many things between us.
Some of the unfinished business in his life seemed to filter away, some he bequeathed to me. These were profound events that I remember even now, like they were yesterday.
The same thing has happened between my father and me, my mother. Others whom I have loved. Many times. And I’m sure they have happened to you. They fill me with gratitude and peace, and with new purposes.
As I have aged, I’ve had far less difficulty accepting the presence of all that I don’t know. Apparitions. Miracle remissions. Turn-abouts in lives that seemed hopelessly adrift, or just hopeless.
Perhaps it is the gift of age, a second life of wonder. And perhaps – just perhaps – it is the beginning of wisdom. Not what we know, but all that we don’t know, may matter most in the end. Not what we are capable of effecting, but what comes to us, unbidden, as gift, challenge, mystery.
There are things that I don’t understand these days, but choose to believe at a level far deeper than my cognitive capacities. Things that over the years have awakened me to new realms of perception and truth.
The Chinese have a proverb, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
This is as good a definition of truth as I know. In a time when we are so deeply credulous of the shiny bits of random facts that dance across our multiple screens, it is good to be reminded that the most important information we ever receive comes without words, or with very few words, and strikes at a level of our beings well beyond the prefrontal lobe.
A few weeks ago I was walking in the park. It was later than my usual hour, mid-morning. The lilac bushes had just begun to put out their green buds. The returning birds – robins, cardinals, finches – were delightfully in evidence, busy with their nest building. The pussy willows glowed in the morning light, moist and radiant as they would be for just a few days before opening into glorious flowers.
Below me on another path I saw a large gaggle of young teens. Inwardly I sagged. It was a school group. I’d been hoping for a contemplative half hour, not an exercise in weathering a storm of testosterone, inevitable cat calls and guffaws.
But as I got closer I realized how quiet and well-behaved this group was. They whirled and chased one another and slugged with their backpacks. Their teachers strolled alongside with the usual watchful, long-suffering eyes.
But they seemed kinder to one another, somehow.
The silence was other-earthly. Then I saw one girl raise her hands and begin to gesture excitedly to her friend. She was signing. The children were deaf mutes.
Their joy in the emerging spring was infectious, beautiful, infused with grace. They missed nothing on their walk, not the small field flowers, not the tufts of yellow on the witch hazels. They wanted to share it with one another as if it was the first day of creation. As if the world had risen just for them that day.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
I remember them today, for they revealed that other world to me, these young ones, just out of childhood, singing in their own language, making the bright sound of birds with the colors of their silence.
What we don’t understand may be the gift of this day, and of all days.