Friday, May 07, 2010

Do You Know What You Don't Know?

Mrs. Zacham had to have been 100 years old when I was in middle school.  Ok, probably not.  More likely, she was somewhere in her mid to late sixties...but gosh she seemed old.  Her hair was fully gray...and her shuffling walk was so pronounced, I remember being amazed to see her above the ground floor of the school.  I didn't know she could pick up her feet.

Mrs. Zacham was particularly fond of starting off the school year with a single question...a question that was, I suspect, unfailingly laughed at...a question that, to a 13 year old, seems utterly ridiculous...particularly the way Mrs. Zacham screeched it: 

Do you know what you don't know??

We all laughed uproariously, assuming it was a joke.  She didn't find it funny for some reason (old people are so serious!!).  She spent the rest of the year teaching us how to poke and prod our way through scientific inquiry.  Or maybe she didn't.  Honestly, the only thing I remember about her class is that single question bouncing off of our heads like an echo to nowhere....and I remember thinking it was the most silly question I'd ever heard.  How could I possibly know what I didn't know?  And why in the world should I care?

My 40th birthday has been following me around like a shadow...inescapable...stuck to my heels...and getting shorter by the day.  Decade birthdays have always seemed symbolic to me.  My 30th birthday was a bit of a spectacle...  There were diamonds and balloons and hourly surprises and a whole community seemed to come together to celebrate with me.  Ten years hence, my life is very different.  I'm much more concerned with the responsibilities I've chosen:  raising a child...being a good student...being a supportive boss...being a good partner and friend.  I'll be gathering with people I love a little later in the month, and that will serve nicely as a birthday marker.  But for right now, my only plans for my actual birthday are to chaperon a playdate for the Monkey and one of his friends.  Given how the center of my universe has shifted over time, it almost seems fitting.

As I look back over four decades of life -- and forgetting for a moment that it feels impossible that I've lived that long -- I can see how often I didn't know what I didn't know.  I can see mistake after mistake...and I can see how I learned from them.  I can see how every choice I've made (the good and the bad) have led me to this point.  I can see how fortunate I've been and how I've been so often looked after.  I can see how I've grown and matured...how I've actually gotten a little bit wiser.  I feel a little more weathered and a little more settled...more at ease with the world and with myself.  And ever so slowly, I'm starting to understand more how to know what I don't know.

I would say that I wish I'd paid attention a little more in Mrs. Zacham's science class...that I'd taken her question a little more seriously so that it would stick with me...but I think maybe it did.

1 comment:

Jerasphere said...

I remember ol' Zoom Zoom Zacham! Even knew her husband after graduation. I thought it was funny that he referred to her as Zoom Zoom Zacham. Thanks for reminding me of her, as I had let her and her wisdom slip my mind.... must a 40 thing. Happy Birthday friend!