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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wha’ do ya’ know?


My favorite line in the film “The English Patient” (which I saw five times in the theater, because of Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Willem Dafoe, Director Anthony Minghella, Author Michael Ondaatje, the landscape, Gabriel Yared’s music, John Seale’s cinematography, the passion, the skin/sand continuum, need I go on?) is when Binoche’s character Hana says to Fiennes’ character Almásy, when he asks if she knows Heroditus’ histories:

“I don’t know anything.”

Almásy’s been burned unrecognizably. He’s on his death bed - an old one in a dusty shell of a Tuscan monastery. Hana is his hospice nurse, and she’s feeding him plums like a mother bird, first peeling the fruit from the skin with her teeth, then placing the peeled fruit in his mouth. “It is a plum plum,” he says, chewing. Her innocence and honesty are a revelation.

I’ll be 51 Wednesday, and I can say with glee, I don’t know anything. (Not that I’m innocent.)

I don’t know if you feel like this, but every day, my thoughts tend toward: Huh? I didn’t know that, or, What’s that all about? Information overload, sure. We’re bombarded. It’s one reason I seldom read the newspaper. It’s also why there is a stack of magazines opened to unfinished articles on my table. I want to be informed, but come on.
But that's not all of it. It's not just that I don't know files of information. I don't want to close files. Because if you "know" something, you're not open.

The nice thing about being over 50 is that you don’t care so much any more whether you know anything. When I was 29, I knew everything. I had to. My reputation depended on it, I thought.

I wonder how many twenty-somethings like Hana can really say, honestly, “I don’t know anything.” But let me tell you, there’s freedom in those words.

I guess where I am now at the start of my 52nd year is that I want to know more about a couple of things only, not a little about a lot. I’m surrounded by PhDs at work, and they are good examples of people who have a long attention span and drill down to the core in their area. When you read 150 books on one topic or author, write a book about it, teach it, write articles and maybe more books the rest of your life, you might begin to know something about something.

I didn’t choose that path. Maybe I could have (am I kidding myself?), and sometimes I wish I had.

But I have no regrets. I’m not so much interested in head knowledge as I am in direct knowledge now. I want to know people and experience the human exchange. I want to learn to paint. I want to know how things work. I want to understand what makes the shadow on the moon without looking at a diagram.

I wonder if I have the attention span. It’s way too easy to put things on a shelf before they're "done."

Well, here’s to another year chewing on what I’m fed, like a baby bird.

21 comments:

Rauf said...

Ruth, the essential role of knowlege is to make us aware of our ignorance. All the knowledge we gain makes us nothing. I may feel superior to some but soon i realise that i am not superior even to a worm, actually a worm is far superior to me. it is helping the nature. The knowledge of the monkey is supreme, we really don't need anything more than that.


i really don't know if i saw the english patient or saw just parts of it. I remember KS thomas and Binoche. i love them both. saw Minghela receiving an oscar.

Letitia said...

Could you please be a little more considerate of your more "challenged" readers?
If you are going to post something a little profound, could you post a nice picture of a flower or something after it? Not follow it with another profound post!
I'm still mulling over my thoughts on last Thursday's post!!
Now you hit us with this!!
I tell you, the dumbies amongst us will revolt!

Ruth said...

rauf, if you haven't seen "The English Patient" we really need to talk!

Ruth said...

Letitia, hahahaha. So sorry.

But it sounds as though you're just doing what I'm doing and saying, "I don't know anything."

Right on!

lorenzothellama said...

Oh Ruth, I must sound so much like you!
Once I thought I had it all sussed out, and then when I got older I realised I knew ABSOLUTELY nothing. I listen to my friends discuss creationism, Darwinism, evolution with such conviction, and once I would have joined in with gusto, but now I think 'does it really matter?'.
I love Rauf's writing so much. He is such a modest, humble and gifted man. I really wish I knew him and could be his friend!
Also I love your Bishop cat! What a pretty little creature.

You go for hens dear Ruth! You will always find someone willing to chickenwatch while you are away. I have thought about it but Badger loves everyone and everything and would want to play with them, thus frightening the poor little things to death.
Lorenzo.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I know. One of my favorite mantras is, Nothing Matters. I think all that matters is what we do with our circumstances. But then again, nothing really matters.

Lovely Bishop. She is the most elegant cat I've met, and she is humble and sweet. She loves her outdoor world here on the farm (and at the farms of many locals; she really gets around).

Lovely rauf. What you write is true, and he is sincere in humility. You could find no better friend.

I'll keep you posted about chickens. Don has some work in the barn to do before he'd be ready for them. There is already a chicken room with roosts and all. Would be sooooo nice. I love gathering the eggs, except when a rooster is present.

JoAnn - NL , Travelstories & Photography said...

Baby bird?

Hmmm well ......

Thanks for you visit on my blog, I posted today some more travel photo's from Spain again...

Bye see you :) JoAnn

Ginnie said...

This post is totally profound, Ruth! You are definitely a writer, and that is one of the few things I know for sure!!!

Raw Kale said...

This post came at the perfect time for me! Happy Birthday. My Turkish friend takes all of his friends out for his birthday- he gives the gift- does not receive. Most find this backwards to their expectations. I love that on your birthday, you gave us this gift.

Also, I have been looking into going to graduate school, spent hours looking at curriculums, and I cannot bring myself to swallow them whole! I, like you, have a stack of twenty books, some I will finish, others I will return when the library subscription expires. But I love the ritual of waking up in the morning, looking at that stack of books and asking myself, where do I want my inspiration to stem from today?

Ruth said...

Boots, thank you.

Ruth said...

Raw Kale, well aren't you clever, Rachel. :) I like what you did with your name (raquel).

Your Turkish friend has the right idea.

The thing is, every day is new. I want to treat it that way.

Don said...

How fun it is to fly with you through this life. You are always searching for the next level, and I think you are on to something. I like to read your thoughts, they make me think about things in new ways.

I'm ready for some chickens, and maybe an alpaca.

Ruth said...

Don, we have the best life. And maybe it would be even better with chickens and an alpaca.

Britt-Arnhild said...

A very interesting reflection. I am "only" 49, and every day I learn how much I don't know.

By the way, after seeing and reading The English Patient I bought Herodot's stories, but have still not read them. May be they can teach me something and help me to know?

Ruth said...

Britt-arnhild, you sound like me, get excited, buy something to read, then it sits on a shelf. I think the intention counts for something. The Heroditus stories aren't necessarily factual, but oral traditions that are mixed with real history, so you don't know which are which. But they are good human stories, I think.

Steve Middleton said...

Hi Ruth
Thanks for visiting my blog. I like your blog very much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your visit to the UK.
I liked The English Patient too - but it isn't in my top 10 (sorry).
The Herodotus stories deserve more attention.

Ruth said...

JoAnn, I'm sorry I missed your comment. Yes, I feel like a baby bird, opening my mouth to what I can be fed.

Ruth said...

Steve, for a long time, The English Patient was my favorite movie. Now, I don't know if I could even watch it again. I think I oversaturated myself with it. But maybe it's been long enough now . . .

I have strange taste in movies. If a movie is well made, I don't care too much what it's about.

I have never read Herodotus, but my husband did.

Rauf said...

Ruth, Now i am sure i have not seen the English patient, i have just seen trailer or some clippings

Ruth said...

rauf, please watch it. Tell me what you think. Maybe I'll watch it again, I haven't seen it since it came out in 1996. It's alarmingly beautiful, if you ask me.

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