A friend and I recently commiserated about the ancient conundrum that is the reality of getting older and knowing less. How is that possible? I walk through the world, picking up bits of knowledge along the way, and yet it seems that I am an expert at very little (or, perhaps, nothing at all).
When I admit this, though, let me be clear that I’m not looking for reassurance; this isn’t a moment of self-deprecation. Instead, it’s actually a source of amusement, to look around and see that the world is full of details that I just don’t understand.
Take the following sign, for example, spotted last month in San Francisco:
Sometimes I walk through the grocery store, marveling at what exists. If I start down the Road of Thinking, I wonder about how this stuff is made, tested, marketed, transported. For some of it, I honestly have to question how it even gets labeled as food.
There are moments when I tune into how uniformed I am about bigger things, like flying. It’s almost inevitable, at some point when I’m on a flight, that I will start reflecting on how incredible – and how incredibly weird – it is. The questions are endless, framing everything from the structure of the plane and the design of flight paths to the algorithms that figure out which routes should be most expensive and where they store all the plastic food trays and tiny bottles of liquor.
I often feel clueless about art, though I remember the words triptych and chiaroscuro from my undergrad days. Claude Monet is someone who makes me feel particularly humbled: how could he possibly see what he was painting, on such a grand scale, when he was in the midst of birthing every tiny stroke of his paintbrush? It’s mind-boggling.
And, the older I get, perhaps that’s the thing that most leaves me at the beginning all over again: what is it that makes people do the things that they do? I’m fascinated:
Back when I was 17, I was pretty sure I knew everything. I was that kid who would shout her opinions – loudly – from the rooftops, even when they were ill informed and unshaped.
I don’t mind that, when I look back on it; I was a kid. But all these years later, as I walk through the world and note thing after thing after thing that I don’t understand, there is one piece of knowledge that I can solidly rely on: it sure is fun to be uncertain.