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Knowing Things

by Julia Sneden

One of the glorious things about being of this certain age is finally realizing that we dont have to know everything. It seems to me that during my school years I spent so much time and energy covering up all the things I didnt know that its amazing I learned anything at all.
     Now, at nearly 63, I am delighted to find out that Im still able to learn. In fact in some ways I find learning easier than it was when I was a kid. Oh, Ill grant you that my memory is no longer as facile as it was, but my methods of learning are better, and the energy I once spent on hiding what I didnt know or understand is now available for pursuit of whatever interests me.
     Wouldnt it be great if we could get to kids early-on and reassure them that theyre not supposed to know everything yet, and that there is plenty of time to learn whatever it is they want to know? As the younger sister of a very able brother, I remember feeling at all times that I needed somehow to catch up, and being sure that I never could.
    Too many children learn to master the go-along-giggle, or the vague nod, both of which are effective skills for covering ones ignorance, but arent much help in eradicating it. Too many children are quick to say: Oh, of course I know that! or: well DUH! Who doesnt know that? Maybe such bravado is a basic need of the human spirit. Age and education and experience sometimes ameliorate or even erase it, but too many of us are afraid to say: I dont know, or even Gee, is that so?
     I am still impressed when I meet someone truly brilliant who really understands calculus or who speaks seven languages, but I no longer feel the need to beat up on myself  because of them.
     After all, even though I admire people of exceptional accomplishment, I conjecture that in order to achieve what theyve achieved, theyve had to forego some of the things I have done, and know a lot about. Face it: if  someone hadnt learned how to run the washing machine or mind the baby or teach small children or keep the checkbook or sauce the spaghetti, people like Einstein wouldnt have had time or energy to mess around with theories.
     And if, along with the necessary coping skills, youve actually managed to learn another language or play a tune or knit or grow a garden or cook a splendid supper or tell a joke well or run a mile or befriend a teenager or care for someone who is sick or, in fact, do any one thing really well, you dont have to cover up or catch up with anyone. Let them catch up with you.


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