HOW TO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING

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Six-year-old Emma was shy, curious, stubborn and smart. She knew very well to agree with her big brother rather than debate him, or the result would be her Barbie doll’s hair scissored off.

She was a ballet dancer, with more exuberance and dedication than real talent. She loved when her dad performed puppet shows behind his newspaper or blasted Van Morrison on Sunday mornings while he cooked Irish sausage. She preferred to read four books at a time. Her favorite being Goodnight Moon. And in first grade, the teacher asked her to count as high as she could. Emma kept counting until the teacher would say, “Stop, stop! Enough! Alright!” 

Sometimes it’s sad to think about her, gap-toothed with a terrible haircut her mom said was cute, absolutely convinced that learning would always come with ease and pleasure. Convinced it was that simple; just keep counting until they say stop, never struggling to find the right answers or worrying about where they come from.

I would like to tell six-year-old Emma, in 20 years you will still cross-legged on your bed and run your still painted red fingers tips through your still tangled hair, and you will absently pick at a scab on your knee until it bleeds because you are thinking about things you don’t know, the way you always have. 

You will hum less and dance less. You will want eleven children less, being one of the few girls whose maternal instinct wanes as she matures. You will care more about who that faceless, nameless husband figure will be, but you will still worry about sharing your bed every single night someday.

The lesson I am trying to learn this week, and last week, and probably next week too, is not that there are so many things that I don’t know about people, the world around me, or the universe, but how to be comfortable with that knowledge.

Sometimes I try to think of all the things six-year-old Emma didn’t know yet, things that she would one day struggle to learn, but later turn into accomplishments she would call her own. Like how she will one day write and others will call it beautiful, how she will travel the world by herself, that she will make friends, cocktails, and mistakes. And that she will learn how to kiss, and it will be as easy as counting, but so much more fun.

It feels good to look back at six-year-old Emma. It’s the only time I feel wise these days, comparing myself to myself. The truth is, with all that life has thrown at me this year, six-year-old Emma probably could have handled it better than 26-year-old Emma.

I don’t feel like I can pelt out number after number with ease until someone tells me to stop. Most days, I feel anxious. Most days I feel doubt. Most days I stumble in my high heels, or over my words even though I consider myself a writer. That matter is always the toughest. 

I’m hard on myself when I make mistakes, which is often. But I’m learning to be a person who accepts their flaws and does not know things. I am learning to ask questions, share my feelings, and not hate myself when the answer comes back sharply, disappointingly, or impatiently. I’m learning to be patient with myself.

Maybe in 2019, I’ll get comfortable with not knowing everything, about people, the world around me, or the universe. Perhaps I’ll learn how to live uncomfortably, and that is a form of wisdom in itself. 

If not, I’ll remind myself of what I have learned since age six. 

Just start by ticking off the things you know for sure, one after the other, like numbers. Some days you have to start counting until they tell you to stop.

And then you just keep going.

 
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Emma CunninghamComment