I Don’t Know

When in doubt, don’t.

~ Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

When in doubt, do it.

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. 1809-1894

I say it a lot, apparently. Sometimes I don’t even realize it. It’s become a habit, like breathing or twitching my leg.

“I don’t know.”

Softly whispered words, a barely audible mumble, and nearly always accompanied by a heavy sigh and a shake of the head. More commonly at night, in the quiet of my bedroom, snuggled close to my wife. She hears me and grows frustrated.

“I don’t know.”

Life overwhelms me on occasion. Things happen that require a response, some sort of acknowledgment coupled with a well-reasoned yet timely action. And yet I take a beat too long and the moment flitters away, leaving me feeling unskilled and paralyzed. Stuck in a glue of astonished apathy. Scared still.

“I don’t know.”

In a way, it feels like taking out the trash. The moments pile up and start to stink, so the only response that makes sense is to gather them up, tie the bag shut, and carry it to the curb. Let the stench dissipate, riding atop an easterly wind.

“I don’t know.”

My indifference (?) is debilitating. I just don’t know how to act. I possess an empty tool chest, it sits rusting in the corner, and I am not equipped or prepared to conceive a plan; much less is my ability to set any sort of plan in motion. There is a twisted kind of comfort that comes with being willfully ignorant, for one cannot fail when one doesn’t make the effort to move.

“I don’t know.”

Perhaps there is clarity in the details. Sure the devil is there but so are the pieces that fit together, make of the mess a manageable whole. Maynard said it first, how we know the pieces fit because we watch them fall away. So I’m not even very original lately. I let the poetic drippings of others burn through my will and sever the lines which just might fuel my action. I get like that sometimes . . .

“I don’t know.”

Or maybe I do know, and will see the light only as I take the chisel in my hand and begin to tap tap tap away the lethargy that entombs me. I need a new mantra.

“I do know . . . ”

That poetry is easy. It buries the truth in metaphor and symbolism.

There is no chisel.

There is no shell.

At the end of the day there is just me, my resources, and the steps I have taken. The things I have done. Right or wrong. And the ability to drift to sleep knowing that tomorrow will bring more opportunities to stretch myself if I’m but willing to meet them and move through them.

There must be a happy medium between Benjamin and Oliver . . .

[photo credit]


8 thoughts on “I Don’t Know

  1. michael.offworld January 3, 2009 — 1:21 pm

    Doubt has risen as my invisible companion too. So close sometimes, it’s voice is my own. I like what you’re doing here. Trying to stay away from the black and white and find the middle.

  2. Dunno if it’s a good thing or not, but I often say, “I don’t know, but… I WILL find out.” Seems to at least inspire hopefulness if not confidence.

  3. See, I think it’s the people who can admit that they ‘don’t know’ that know the most of all.

    And hopefully that made sense to more than just me. 🙂

  4. i know that my heart knows
    and i know that i do not know

  5. the truth is you DO know, you just don’t trust…

    it is common among those who are wise, but just aren’t aware of it, yet.

  6. Ah Brian

    Heres one I used to say quite frequently, after I dove in.

    “By the way, how deep was that?” 😉

  7. My phrase is “oh well”. Used very much like your “I don’t know”. So yeah, I get it. Oh well.

  8. The answers DO lie within. That overused serenity prayer applies here: all you need is the strength, wisdom and courage to reach for the answers. It is a scary journey, but it looks to me like you’ve got pretty decent company for the duration.

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