You see the thing is, there is only so much time. You know that, and I know that. It creeps up your spine every once in a while, reminding you. You see it in the dead leaves on the ground, in the flattened squirrel, in the lines that deepen on your skin. So there is not much time before I cease to exist. I am fighting a losing battle to do all the things I want to do, to see all the things I would like to see, to read all the books, to listen to all of the music, to write all of the words…This is just me making excuses though, because most days I am sickened by my own ignorance.
So I was thinking about this the other day. About how old I am, and how much time there might be left for me, and about all the things I do not know. It caused me panic. Not knowing things. It led me to thinking; what do I know? What should I know by now? What have I already forgotten? Have I forgotten more than I will ever remember? Chances are I have. Chances are this will only increase as I get older. How much does the mind allow you to hold onto? Snippets and fragments. Important things come first. Like walking and breathing, and riding a bike, making a meal, driving a car. What remains once your aged mind has sieved through the rubble? How to tie your shoe laces? Bake a cake? Send an email? But what happens to the rest?
What is probably worse though, is all the things you never knew in the first place, all the things you never read about, or learnt about. Time wasted? Opportunities missed? I am embarrassed by how little I know. How little I have to hold onto and pass on.
So what do I know?
I know how to drive. Just about. I know how to plant seeds and help them grow. I know a thing or two about writing, a thing or two about parenting, a thing or two about how not to train a dog…I know a few things about politics, but so much of what I believe is personal and emotional, heartfelt rather than researched. I have forgotten most of what I learnt at school, college and University.
But what I don’t know shocks me and holds me back. It is staggering in its enormity. My mind closes itself in a panic, shouting there is not enough time, it is not my fault! I can’t help it. But I wish I knew so much more.
I do not know the names of all the trees I love so much. They are a green canopy sheltering me, filled with birdsong, they surround my walks and my imaginings, and I like to look at them and think about how old they are, and I like to stop and touch them if I can. They make me feel close to nature and to the point of everything. I know the oak and the sycamore…pines…conifers. I will learn more and then forget them. And I do not know the names of the hundreds of birds that fill my world with song. I know the robin and the pigeon and the blackbird and the magpie…the easy ones. I will try to remember what I have seen, and I tell myself to go and look them up, go and learn, but I will forget to do even that.
Flowers like the daisy, and the rose and the geranium and the daffodil..of course everyone knows those ones, but there are so many more, ones I have planted myself in my own garden by my own hand, and they still live on nameless to me. Not to mention the flowering weeds that line the lane, pinks, yellows, purples and blues – what are you? Tell me your name and your purpose. It is like all of nature is sat there being ignored. It is becoming unknown and unused.
Space and time and maths and physics…What is electricity and how does the TV work? Mobile phones, and the inter-net. I live with them and I rely on them, and yet I do not have a clue how they work or how they came to be. I am soaked in ignorance. I am weighed down by the guilt of not knowing enough. There is so much to know. Maybe I should make a list and start ticking them off. I would like to expand my knowledge and I would like to not have to keep saying ‘I don’t know’ when my kids ask me things. I would like to know what my ancestors knew, and what weeds to pick and cook, and how to fix a broken bike, and how to change a fuse and what kind of bird sings like that and why…I would like to hold onto the little that I do know before it gets bored and wanders off. What would I be left with?
Self-doubt and rising panic.
I could have done so much more. I could have learnt so much more and put it to good use. If only life was not so short. If only life was longer and not so stuffed full of washing clothes and hoovering mess and sweeping floors and changing beds and making ends meet. I’m running out of time and fear so many things will remain a mystery to me, languishing in the pile of ‘I’ll do that later’, ‘I’ll read that later’, ‘I will ask about that later’. But what if I never do, and just keep scurrying on towards death and getting by on the little bits I have picked up and held onto along the way?
I don’t fear death.
I won’t mind it because I will be at peace and not in a panic.
Meanwhile I will experience the turning of the days and the missing out on knowledge, expertise and experience. So many things I wish I had done. But I didn’t have the money, or I didn’t have the time, or I didn’t have the courage. I played it safe and stuck to what I knew because it was enough to survive on, enough to get me by. I won’t be a wise old woman passing on essential knowledge. It saddens me. I am sickened by the shame.
But I found a little book on trees and I keep it in my pocket.