I’ve been pondering how to seek knowledge and wisdom — keeping an ear to the ground for what I might learn. This light-hearted explanation made me smile, but also rang true: “Knowledge is knowing tomatoes are fruit; wisdom is not adding them to a fruit salad.” I embrace learning and gaining knowledge and I know it enlarges my mind as well as my soul. I returned to finish my college degree at age 50. I learned skills and facts, but especially I learned to hold onto the parts of that knowledge which I could apply to increase my perspective of the world and the people in it. In other words, wisdom.
My sister, not long before she passed away this summer, shared a gem of wisdom I hope never to forget. She was experiencing many trials in all directions in her life. I love her and wanted to help her, so I worked on seeking knowledge that might help me to help her. I looked at her questions and concerns and did some serious research for possible solutions. Eager to share my knowledge, I called to tell her all the wonderful options I had discovered. To my dismay, each idea, resource, or solution I enthusiastically shared was dismissed as impossible, improbable, or out of the question. In frustration, I told her I wanted to help, but I was out of ideas about how to do so because she seemed determined to reject my suggestions and just wallow in her misery. Our conversation did not end on a happy note.
It took a few tries before she answered another call from me. As I apologized and explained my intentions and logic, she stopped me. “Norma,” she said, “I don’t call you so you can solve my problems. I don’t think you can. I call you because I need you to listen to me.” The power of her wisdom, even in her difficulties, washed over me. I apologized with all my heart for being so blind to her needs. As the adage concludes, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That parting gift of wisdom from her is lodged in my heart and I hope it never shakes loose.
I am several years older than she, and I knew I had missed many details about her life. I wanted to gain knowledge about her life—dates, places, experiences, etc. She had always been quiet and tried to stay under the radar. She was a master at avoiding photos. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from honoring her by learning everything I could about her. Heaven seemed to smile on my quest, because a series of miracles unfolded which allowed me to find and communicate with some key people in her life who told me many things, both joyous and painful, which I had not known. Kind mutual friends helped me connect with these people; I found tools I didn’t know existed online to learn how to contact them. I can’t help but believe that I was supposed to tell her story. Not just the facts, of course, but the wisdom others could gain from her life.
One valuable resource that added knowledge and wisdom was online copies of our hometown newspaper. If you are not familiar with this amazing resource, you would be wise to sample that old-fashioned version of social media. Here I learned about events and dates and day-to-day experiences that shaped her life. She bravely participated in activities I would never have imagined she would try. And she excelled. She valued education, pursuing formal classes as well as reading voraciously. I am respecting her privacy and her desires to keep safe boundaries so much of the information I found will only be shared with those who knew and loved her best.
The key for me in all of this? The dates, facts, and timelines were helpful, but it was how they framed her generosity and concern for others that tell the real story of who this powerful woman was and is. She loved and shared all she had, and it usually was with those who were marginalized, including stray cats and poverty-stricken friends.
I am still working through a lot of information and emotions. One of the people I talked to who loves her intently suggested we focus on happy times, victories, and sweet memories. While we can learn and love her more as we encounter some painful parts of her life, if we seek to apply wisdom in how we share the knowledge we have gleaned from her life, her light can continue to influence those of us who loved her (and our children and children’s children) for generations to come.
My good husband, Clyde, who has more knowledge and facts about me – good and bad — than any other person on earth, also has the wisdom to
Take and sift them—
Keeping what is worth keeping—
And with a breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.
We love this entire poem which was shared with us by a beloved teacher when we took a marriage preparation class. I invite you to increase your wisdom by reading it, believing it, and applying it generously.