Carol A. Hand
Last night before I fell asleep, I did what I usually do. Solved a cryptogram puzzle or two. Often the quotes in the puzzle books are silly, but on rare occasions they inspire deeper reflection like the one below.
“PGH OHMLI VGATLBAA GLIPGVJBIQU TA, LPJ JP ABB EYMJ QTBA ITFQU MJ M ITAJMLXB, VGJ JP IP EYMJ QTBA XQBMHQU MJ YMLI.” (JYPFMA XMHQUQB)
“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” (Thomas Carlyle)
I have always loved solving puzzles and studying things around me. I didn’t realize, though, that the way I saw the world was different than the view others had. By the time I was in third grade, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard unless I leaned forward with my face cradled on my open palms with the outer edges of my eyes pulled taught by my fingers. By narrowing my visual field, I was able to see a little further. I thought that was “normal.”
Sadly, that automatic adaptation stopped working. I learned after a visit to an ophthalmologist that I had a case of rapidly advancing myopia. Until that visit, I didn’t realize that others could see individual leaves on the tops of trees, or stars in the night sky. The things I could see needed to be close at hand. Instead of looking through a telescope at the sky, I explored the wonder of life in the local pond through my microscope.
Microscopic Movie Stars
Myopia has taught me that I need to focus more intensely to see things. I’m reminded of the moral from a Sufi story told by John McKnight. “You will only learn what you already know.” As I listen to the obfuscating main-stream news reports, I wonder what is beneath the surface of the swampy non-issues that fill headlines, and then I let it go. I see it as “what lies dimly at a distance,” and focus on what I can do here and now.
The answer at the moment includes gardening, teaching, and writing among other things. Gardening has fed me during lean winters in the past and will hopefully do so in the future. Gardens have also provided a sanctuary for me and others throughout the years. It’s not something I “know” as an expert, but I do know the value of learning, sometimes through trial and error. Variable, unpredictable weather patterns and conditions make growing healthy plants a never-ending learning endeavor.
I work part-time as an educator. I’ve not been “trained” as a teacher, but from a framework of liberatory praxis, I know that having all of the answers, even if it were possible, would be of little real value to others. Without curiosity, I’m not sure learning is possible. Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.
And I write. The words that flow through me come from a source I can’t control or reach with my intellectual capacities. All I can say is that sometimes I am compelled to record what I see, hear, think or feel. And sometimes, like today, I feel compelled to share what I write.
Perhaps the answer to breaking the cycle of only learning what we already know is simply to admit what we don’t know. Perhaps we also need to let go of the illusion that we can ever know anything definitively. At some point we have to take the risk to do what we can anyway, even if we don’t know all of the answers. We’re bound to learn something in the process if we try things we’ve never done before, just as I did when I donned my first pair of thick coke-bottle lenses as a child. I already knew that pond-life was fascinating, but I learned that there millions and millions of stars in the night sky. Stars were here before humans and may well be here long after we’re gone.
Our insignificant lives will probably have little effect on how brilliantly the stars shine, although it will undoubtedly affect our ability to see them. But our actions do directly affect the life of all that surrounds us close “at hand.” Hopefully we will not be myopic in the choices we make about how we live with all the other beings who share our one precious planet.
I’ll leave you with a puzzle to solve if you are interested. I hope you enjoy the challenge and the message.
HWCA RCIRZC PJV, “YO QJA’O UC SIAC” IM “VIK SIA’O WJFC HWJO YO OJECP,” YO NJECP OWC OJPE JZZ OWC NIMC YAOCMCPOYAT. (ZVAA WYZZ)