“You know everything.”
My niece said that to me recently in response to some little conversation we had – the kind you have with 4 year olds who have that delicious curiosity about everything. Where does the wind come from? Why are bananas curved? Why is blue?
The way she said it though. I mean I’ve heard variations on the theme so often. But usually it comes out sounding more like “You think you know everything,” or “You know everything, do you?” And usually it came just before the woman who had said it would storm from the room
But this time it was said in that tone that combines awe with a sense of inevitability. As far as my niece was concerned, it was slightly amusing that I knew everything (to her) but not unexpected. And it reminded me of the fact that when I was around her age I thought the same thing about my father. And now that he’s gone it almost feels true again.
I feel like the depth of his knowledge was so much vaster than mine. He knew about car repair, hair dressing, metallurgy and mineralogy , watchmaking, European history, edible plants and mushrooms, trees, geology and how to approach a distressed horse. He kept gaboon vipers as pets, went snorkelling and spearfishing, could navigate using the stars in both hemispheres and played the zither and dulcimer, and was the kind of intuitive cook I long to be. He did all this and so much more and when he died, and I realised how many questions I had, how much time I had wasted when I should have listened more, I was torn between laughter and tears. Because you see, he’d known about regret of time wasted, and the as he would so often say, flowers on the grave are too late.
So I felt that deficit, felt that lost opportunity, even though there would never have been enough time, something we can only realise when something is lost forever. If the impossible happened, and I came home and found my father sitting there in his customary dug of cigarette smoke, alive and well, there would not be enough time to ask everything I needed to. There are no eternities long enough to measure love.
Of course we have Google now, can call up so much information at almost any time, some of it even true, a portion of it meaningful. But the retention of information was never the point. I didn’t really find my father’s breadth of knowledge the impressive thing, and I don’t think my niece really cares that I can answer a lot of her little questions. What is important is the way we respond to curiosity, and what that says about our own curiosity. We need to enjoy and love this world while we are still a part of it, keep our sense of wonderment and exult in the miracle of life and love. And when we are so connected it will seem as though we truly know everything- at least everything that’s truly important.