Ever had this thought:
“I think other people know all about this. Others probably realize that I don’t know. Do they see my ignorance? Do they simply watch me fumble without telling me?”
What is your “unknowingness” – that fuzzy corner in life that you suspect you know little about?
A dear friend – Cassy, for the sake of this piece – was the youngest in a family of five. She had one sister and three brothers. Their mother died before Cassy had reached her teen years.
Cassy’s father remarried. Perhaps he was in a hurry – he chose to bring a woman into the family who had no children of her own. Seemingly there were few redeeming features in the maternal department. From snippets shared by Cassy, the woman’s presence would have kept an icicle from thawing in the Sahara Dessert.
Who knows what fears kept the poor woman from opening her heart to five motherless children. Cassy grew up feeling there was simply another person in the house who happened to participate in domestic affairs, but not in motherhood.
Cassy explained her “unknowingness” to me one day. Whenever there was a social event, she suspected there were things she missed that other women knew about and took for granted.
I asked for an example. Cassy couldn’t pinpoint any one aspect of this unknowing. She said it may be something to do with manners. Or, not knowing the proper dish to use when serving certain recipes. It might be some obscure no-no that she repeatedly performed and no one has ever told her.
Our group of women friends is close, trustworthy and honest. If any of us had ever practiced some glaring faux-pas, I assured Cassy, we’d let each other know. We’d either speak up with great care or one of us would turn into an instant mother and, with swift slight-of-hand, “put things right”.
Just after this conversation, I discovered Hope Edelman’s book, “Motherless Daughters”. While the book is full of poignant stories from various women, one chapter “When a Woman Needs a Woman” contained this excerpt from one of Ms. Edelman’s clients:
“I was too young then, or maybe just too uninterested, to pay much attention to how [mom] filled her day. My quest was to separate from her, not to connect. Now when I’m reminded that I lack the bits of knowledge other women seem to have absorbed in their mothers’ homes, I feel somehow incomplete. Defiant. Wrong.
My female friends say this is rubbish. “You just have your own style.” they insist. But I’m not talking about the facade here. I’m talking about interior design… …There are so many little nuances and subtleties in life that have just passed me by.”
Cassy confirmed this description expressed her feelings.
I said, “Whether our mothers have died or not, we all experience these feelings to varying degrees. You’re not alone. Some mothers are still alive and emotionally unavailable. Their daughters really suffer because it can take so long for them to understand their loss.”
“Do you have these feelings, Amy?”
Cassy’s question revisits me frequently. I’ve found my “unknowingness” has changed over the years. It first arose from having a mother forty years older than me. In my teen and young adult stages, I didn’t consider going to my mother for career, social or fashion concerns. Though we always connected at a soul level, as I ventured into my adult life, I found myself with other “more modern” mentors and models. Mom accepted this and summarized our gap perfectly when she said, “Darling, I’d love to be able to appreciate your career more, but, you see, it’s an entirely foreign world to me. I cannot comprehend dashing off to the airport to fly to another city for a meeting and be home in time to worry about dinner. I cannot even imagine your life.”
So I was on my own career-wise. Because my parents weren’t present and reassuring me that I was doing it right, I constantly needed to excel. I continuously pushed the excellence marker forward.
Now? I’d love to sit with my educator mother and talk about critical thinking. My post-secondary education was a series of University night-school courses chosen to complement my career or to answer some burning questions about life. Mother taught me that educated people knew how to think critically. I wanted to do know how.
There’s my current “unknowing”…do I know how to think critically? Though I’m not sure, I think it includes a balance of head and heart. In fact, I need to know. So – I’ve registered for a Justice course offered by Harvard. Thanks to the internet, there will be lots of shared critical thinking amongst the students and the Prof.
If I learn how to do it well, could I create a sharp, quick and viral one-liner that encourages world leaders to ask themselves the same question?
Does everyone else, but me, know how to do that?
This may seem unrelated, but your post reminded me of a book by an anonymous monk: “The Cloud of Unknowing.” I am someone by nature who wants things nicely defined, classified, clear. As I’ve aged, I realize that life is, indeed, lived in this cloud and my task at this stage of life is to become comfortable with unknowing. There are times when I long for the security of long-held beliefs that conflict with the Truth I find in so many places I would never have dared to look before.
On a practical point–I’m really good at Trivia and people tell me to go on Jeopardy. HOWEVER, there is a huge cultural gap in my life from 1961-1985 when I lived a somewhat cloistered existence. My husband has helped fill in the gaps but there are so many questions I could never answer. Good grief, I’m still in a cloud about the Beatles!!!
Oh, Victoria…I also read “The Cloud of Unknowing”. You mentioned it earlier and I tried to find my copy because I need to read it again. It takes concentration and patience. I hope I didn’t loan it out without keeping track of it.
Being on a music cloud can be a welcome state. There’s some music I am happily missing now, but lots of the modern artists continue to have great messages. I have to admit, there are some Classical pieces that make me wonder about the tastes of demanding sponsors hosting new pieces in their tiny parlours. However, the Beatles?! You poor thing! 😀 I recently watched an interview with Paul McCartney about his various Good Works and marvel over the massive concern that existed in the 60s over their impact on youth. We were supposedly doomed to become tainted citizens. As I matured with their music, I kept catching glimpses of their spirituality as they tried to keep the world at bay.
Sounds like an interesting course….will be interested in hearing your assessment of the course when you’re finished with it. Enjoyed this discussion/story.
I haven’t been notified of the next session…I missed the current study by a few days. 😦 I’ll let you know, Charles.
Discussions about what people learned from their mothers always stab me – no- not in the heart – in the gut!
My stepmother taught me all the social graces, and nothing about living and communicating. Out relationship was so precarious that I grew up never daring to speak the truth about my feelings or in relationship… so it’s been a long learning that isn’t over…
Great idea to prod our world leaders mostly with a mental age if between three and six, to look at things critically !!!!
Ewww…that’s a tough one, Valerie. We were so encouraged to speak our feelings that it’s hard to imagine living with constant repression of self. However, it meant that joining “the world” brought shock after shock over the way people lied in the name of “good manners” and “charm”. There are ways of having both – without being dishonest. Plus I had to learn that some people truly don’t have a clue what they are feeling. They decide what they “should” feel and go no further. No wonder we become riddled with disease! Our poor bodies.
I recently grabbed an autobiography by Richard Branson who, as a dyslexic, suffered through school and never had another boss since. What a joy to discover his giving and generous nature – his concern over the condition of the world and what he can do about it. He and musician Peter Townsend met with Mandela and, in 2007, formed “The Elders”. I am so encouraged by this. AND when I googled The Elders, I discovered a man who lives right here on my island has been one of the senior consultants bringing The Elders up to “snuff” technologically so they can get on with a united, easy and enduring connectivity. A few of the Elders didn’t even have an email address.
Desmond Tutu was the president of this small group, but has stepped down in “determined retirement”. He’s now an Honourary Member – they won’t let him get away!
THEN just today on CBC, (after I posted this article) I listened to an hour of first-time-heard-taped-interviews of Nelson Mandela. CBC was the first out-of-country broadcasting corporation allowed to play the tapes. The interviews include parts of the speeches that put him in prison.
So these Elders are creeping in all around me. They are keeping it simple, keeping the heart, emphasizing connectivity and being independent, non-partisan, global advocates for peace! I love it! http://theelders.org/
Amy thank you for your thoughtful reply… I immediately Googled the Elders – what a heartening and optimistic development, and counter-weight to other power-crazed groups!
Love the names too… it gives such confidence to know that some of the accumulated wisdom of the planet is being harnessed to help the world…thank you so much for this hope, Amy…
I would like a full review of this course from Harvard. Thank you, Amy, for continually enlightening us. Xx
Why don’t you join me, Kim? Check it out: https://www.edx.org/ For anyone interested, “EdX is a non-profit created by founding partners Harvard and MIT. We’re bringing the best of higher education to students around the world. EdX offers MOOCs and interactive online classes in subjects including law, history, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence (AI).”
Fascinating ideas. My mom was also 40 years older than me and I never trusted her fashion sense or even her etiquette. I wing a lot of things. I think I’m hopeless so I don’t worry much about what people think.
Isn’t it cool that we can enroll in classes from top notch schools? I think you are already a critical thinker. I suspect you’ll be organizing class discussions before long.
I thought it was ironic that my farmer-cum-lumberman-cum-roadbuilding father was the one who would lay the table with the extra silverware- all in their appropriate places. (He didn’t set the table often, btw!) I wondered what he was doing, but never questioned it and mostly ignored the extra cutlery. As a young woman, I decided to sail one way to Europe. I bought passage on one the Curnard ships – very British and very PROPAH! Lord wasn’t I surprised to sit for our first dinner and see the cutlery laid out in my father’s fashion?! I was so grateful that I actually knew how to work from the outside in. Most of the people at my table quietly watched what I did…who knows if we were accurate or not!
When I got home, I said to mom, “I don’t get it. You were raised by British parents, yet you only use one knife, fork and spoon. Dad was raised on this poor farm and he spreads the cutlery like he was from England. How did he learn to lay a table?”
Turns out, he spent some time during his youth working for a Remittance man – a Brit who was paid by his family to stay away from England. This family had the best of everything and the wife enjoyed the company of the hired men at her dinner table. Dad said she seemed to enjoy “holding court”. I hope she was able to squeeze some topics other than machinery and horses out of those men! 😀
Have you checked out https://www.edx.org ? Cool!!
I totally relate. Shipped off to camp at 4, shipped off to prep school at 12. Had 2 100%b unavailable parents and was not allowed to have friends in town (made friendship difficult). Have never liked women. Too much BS. I think that much of this happened because Mummy adopted a very British outlook from having spent the war years in London. And war does so screw people up – for life!
Like the phoenix rising…I marvel over people like you, Liz. In spite of – or is it because of? – that (type of) abuse, you have risen with incredible compassion to love those who need to know someone “sees”, understands and cares. Truly, out of the ashes…and I respect you a great deal for that. And look at your fabulous marriage! You certainly didn’t waste what you learned!
I know of a Woman’s circle that gathers with a big, ol’ rocking chair in the corner. If they chose, they may finish by asking to be rocked. I admit, the thought stiffens me – my mom was not tactile or huggy. But when I read your words this morning, I had the feeling I could wrap you in my arms and just rock for a while. Maybe it’s easier being the rocker than the rockee? 🙂
About separation, when I listen to friends who were shipped off at such young ages – like you – I hear their pain even tho they are 50 and older. I cannot imagine being taken from the safety of home and hearth. Mom always said she was never meant to be a mother, but that meant she would rather have been free from domesticity – to read books or be an English Prof. Well, she’d not have gained tenure…she became apoplectic over the mention of her writing a book. Nevertheless, I always knew where she was, what she was doing, what she expected of me and that she was on my side – even when I did something stupid at the same school where she taught. Plus, she always invited my input in any matters affecting me.
Makes me wonder…though from opposite ends of the spectrum, did our mothers inadvertently give us the impetus to develop into effective leaders?
Thank you Amy for kind words. Possibly repeating myself, I remember when the book, then the movie came out. I said to myself, OMG (well we didn’t have computers so that is a lie), that is my mother. Getting shuffled around became the good part. I learned over my first thirty years a great deal about loneliness, enough to interview people about it, enough to invite strangers to Thanks Giving dinner, and enough to develop massive amounts of compassion for others.
I have a beautiful granddaughter (well 2 really) who appears to be perfect. My daughter is a very fine mother. I have always known that my granddaughter does not like animals (pets), now I have learned she may go to nursing school – with a caveat. She would go into the business end of things, as she doesn’t like old people. Well, guess what? I do not like people who do not like animals or old people. I have no tolerance for them. That poses a bit of a problem. Well, not too big as they are not close by. The other granddaughter is not perfect and I just got the cutest photo of her with her new dog. She and her dog are scrappy and cute as can be.
I’m just reading a biography of Doris Lessing. OMG – to quote you. What an absence of love, nurturing and reassurance. You come to mind, Liz, since you’ve shared snippets. It’s hard to imagine unloving or undemonstrative parents. And kids know!
Amazing that two little people of such opposites can be born of the same parents. The business end of nursing…hmmm…does that mean the Geriatrics Budget gets shaved? ECU cut back? There are some benefits to Boards! Families certainly give us the opportunity to practice patience, tolerance and “not-too-conditional” love.
Funny story about your dad. I inherited a full set of silverware that includes things like an asparagus server, for cryin’ out loud! Even though my mom had been raised with impeccable manners, they were European and old-fashioned and therefore, to my child mind, wrong. I was horrified when I learned that it was improper to bring food to your mouth with your left hand. I tried to relearn, the American way. Now, I’m ambi-foodie. I get all mixed up about where I am and which culture to fit in with. And of course, when food is in front of me, I just want to get it to my mouth STAT!
Thanks for the link. I do want to partake. But right now, I’m so distracted, I’m hardly able to get any blogging or writing done.;-o
Asparagus server? Ack…I don’t have one. Now I have to go and google. How can I not have one when it is one of my fav. veggies?? 🙂
I was raised to eat either British or American. I’m as comfortable eating with one style as the other. The imported Brits are die-hard lefties so I comply when I’m with them – though I’m sure I do things they wouldn’t… If I was attending a formal function, I would use the left hand. I’m afraid Britain won as the favoured “formal”.
Casually, I use my hands interchangeably. Brits may have a fit, but I cut bite-sized veggies with my right hand – but never meat. THEN, God-bless-em, the Italians taught us how to eat spaghetti with a spoon and fork. I love it!
Who’s “right”? 😀
oh Amy this is a great post.
I cannot fully expand on my own ‘unknowing’ although as the daughter of an emotionally absent/engaged mom, there is a well to plumb.
Are you taking the course through the Coursera MOOC? It sounds terrific…I’m a justice junky.
Critical thinking is at an all time low I’m afraid. Good luck with the ‘leaders’.
Anna, one big area of “knowing” is your ability to grow incredible gardens – and process the produce. Biggie, biggie!! You may end up having to teach the world – once we get Monsanto out of the way.
I have accessed the great universities through edx.org. If you check out the courses offered, do a search with “Justice”. It makes my brain tingle!
Mother/daughter relationship, the closest bond and the most tense at times. Fascinating always to read. Step daughter/Step mom is even harder. Always enjoy your posts. They make me think.
Thank you, Lidi, especially for thinking. Hopefully, your thinking makes your life even better!
I am reminded of the old saying, “The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” We are always in process … Enjoy your classes. Indeed the Internet is wonderful for such.
Yes, it will be a good experience, Jamie, and I just hope it’s not discouraging to be participating with so many youthful minds in all their brilliance.
🙂 I suspect you can hold your own. Age has its advantages. 🙂
HI Amy .. I’ve wanted to learn how to study and analyse .. I was ‘hopeless’ at school, couldn’t get into University and have now idea about that side of life .. once I’m up and running properly .. I may well try and find a short and concise course – so I can absorb the concept and ideas … and then see if I want to study more. I certainly want to do do something .. but I’m also learning tech things to get me up to date, as I really don’t like being behind the curve, and not being sure how to do things – that’s happening soon …
Your course – sounds amazing .. and I’m sure you’ll love the interaction – good for the internet – a huge benefit.
Enjoy .. and young thought is good to contemplate .. your pearls of wisdom will always be there questioning! I hope a new course comes up soon .. .Hilary
Hilary, I thought you had gone to University. Look at the way you put your posts together…you do a great deal of sorting, categorizing and combining to provide informative and interesting posts! You certainly can work with information! Perhaps you were/are dyslexic – like many of us – and think differently. That’s FAR from being a handicap! (Read Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography! I found it incredibly encouraging.) Yes, I look forward to see where you go from here, Hilary!
No mother, alcoholic father, physical/emotional/sexual abuse from an early age on… can you say “tons of trauma”? Only I had it going the “other” direction. “I get it and nobody else does”.
I speak truth when I say I had to be taught the damnedest things. I saw no “value” in those things, so it was a forced teaching, but (go figure) I was wrong about a few things. I can say that now (without choking on the “w” word.)
Happily I can say I DON’T KNOW. And there’s almost relief and peace in that fact.
My brain is hardwired in a different fashion. Just another fact. The explicit/implicit memory functions have stored junk that’ll require a brain transplant to alter…or, more practice time than this planet apparently allows. The deal, for me then, isn’t accepting that others know what I do not. It seems to be more along the lines of practing love no matter what.
Frankly, I’m almost certain that a course in critical thinking would be the ‘easier’of the two for me to accomplish.
Mel, from the bits you’ve expressed in some of your writings (especially when you learned of your sister’s cancer) I glimpsed that life hasn’t been simple or easy for you. But, wow! Whatever you’ve done to bring yourself to where you are today, bravo! I see two aspects of living that tells me your journey has gone well: your career and your marriage.
As I wrote in my comment to Raven (Liz) – I am so amazed over the incredible people who come through hell, learn to live outside of it and end up contributing so much to society. The incredible winning goodness of the ordinary, battered, befuddled and scarred soul provides proof of the unbeatable love and beauty that lies within every one of us.
A South African woman once told me she had been sent to boarding school from the age of five until the end of her schooling. She came home to distant, cool, non-demonstrative “strangers” at each holiday. How does one have parents, yet experience them as art d’objects perched in the house called home? This woman cannot believe anyone, anywhere, has ever, or ever will, love(d) her.
I listened to Bishop Tutu’s daughter who was one of the presenters during a visit from the Dalai Lama. She told how her father would emphasize that we must love one another since too many live in a love-deficit. Otherwise, he asked, how do we expect people to know and experience unity when they have not experienced Love?
I know we’ve not met in person, Mel, but through your writings, I see a person of expansive and abundant love. You attempt to humourously self-efface, but clear, intelligent- sounding insights and knowing predictably shine through.
You and I could probably have some rip-snorting discussions – from dire seriousness to deliciously zany repartee! Plus, I’d also love quiet time, doing a photo essay with you. If we could go out today, my topic would be “mail boxes.” Would I find some?
Dearheart, this is the rural midwest….we MUST have mailboxes. Rednecks as I can sometimes be, I’m a fan of the ones dressed up as the big green tractor! 😉 Ohhh…and the spotted puppy. Hahaha! I’ll haffta snag a shot of that one sometime soon! Maybe after the flooding backs off a bit….oy….
Thank you for the link…
Yes, I think most people experience this sensation in some arena of life. Isn’t that what insecurity is about? We don’t know what we don’t know…or maybe we do know we’re lacking in knowledge, but don’t know how to acquire it…and I think this is the type of knowledge that you learn by absorbing more than intentional training…that’s what I hear in your comments about daughters learning from mothers…sons learning from dads…some knowledge you acquire without realization at the time… Sheila
Well said, Sheila. I’ve said to friends on occasion, “I haven’t found my question yet!” 😀
Enjoyed this Amy, I know in kansas you can attend any college course for free if you are over 65. may do that one day when I am finished playing at this semi retirement thing
Yes, we have the same thing in Canada, Dee. If I lived in a University city, I’d be haunting the halls!