Things we just won’t ever understand


Sometimes, like this morning, I think about the things I may never understand: why exactly the black oak doesn’t drop the last of its leaves until spring, why (although we can put a man on the moon), we can’t seem to make a permanent car tire, why a lover leaves.

This morning, as I drove from my apartment in Baltimore to my house in Williamsburg, I realized that there are so many more un-understandables. I passed a dog standing in a ditch along the rural part of Route 301 and realized that this same dog had been standing in the same spot in the same ditch two weeks ago to the day when I made this early-morning drive. Just standing there, not even watching traffic. What’s with the ditch?

Last week I interviewed the president of a hospital, and one of the topics was leadership. He said that in the absence of true leadership, a group will follow even a bad leader out of “morbid curiosity.” Again, why?

Today I was reading an oddly surfed page that talked about the placebo effect (don’t try this at home). Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.

I think about other things … why pepper is best applied at the beginning of a sautéed meal, and salt at the end. Why people under hypnosis, when told to go open a window, will make up a reason why they opened the window when they’re questioned about it. Why, because there MUST be a tiny chance it won’t happen one day, the sun rises every single morning.

The world is rife with mysteries, it would seem.

And although I could spend a lifetime researching every one of these questions … I’m afraid I would only get a tiny percentage of them answered definitively. And, for some of them, what would it matter? For each of our life’s peculiar questions, we’re probably better off coming up with an answer we can live with, even if we have to make it up based on the little we know — or, like those people under hypnosis, nothing. Because there is often no single truth to be had, anyway. And knowing each little reason behind something won’t change the thing itself.

Do we believe in things we don’t understand? Stevie Wonder sings that if you do, you’ll suffer.

Yet I believe that a black oak’s fall leaves will finally drop in spring. I believe that I’ll never see, in my lifetime, a car tire that won’t need changing. And I still believe in love. Even when it’s painful. Even when there’s no saline around. Even when bad things happen. Even when I don’t understand it.

(It’s Stevie Wonder versus the Dixie Chicks on this one.)

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