I have always been fascinated with math. I’ve never been good at it, but I have been fascinated. In fact, in an effort to exercise my mental muscles, I’m thinking about taking up the study of math. I get a little tingly thinking about the possibilities. The ability to look at a set of data and to derive some truth from it is a very inviting challenge.
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I’m a little intimidated by the proposed path ahead. I’ve been thinking that I would return to the level of arithmetic and geometry that I mastered in school as my baseline. Upward and onward from there. Yet, a little research has caused me to step back and reconsider. The plateaus I once traveled have dramatically changed. Language is different. Processes are different. I’m coming to realize that the concepts my granddaughter mastered in middle school may be far beyond my ability of comprehension.
Humankind has progressed so far and learned so much, in math and in so many other arenas, how can I ever come to even basic understanding of the world around me? Here’s a list of things that I am woefully under-prepared to fathom:
- Math — see above
- Things related to math, like physics and computers — I benefit from the principles of physics and computers, but I don’t really know why
- Politics — or at least why people support some candidates and platforms over others
- Sports — since the early 1980s, when I simply didn’t have time to watch games or sports networks, I have been totally incapable of being excited about sports at any level (I’ve tried. Please don’t see this as an invitation to try to enlighten me or make me a fan. Yes, I will sit with friends and watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But that’s my weak attempt to be seen as normal.)
- Disease and health-related issues — I grasp the concept of aging, accident, injury, infection, and the changes we should expect over time, but I don’t understand cancer or addiction or unexplained takings of the young
- The systems at work that track budgets and people and productivity — I’m confused constantly (However, I am blessed by the opportunities for friendship with those who do understand these things.)
- God — I get the concept of a higher authority, I struggle with concepts of justice and mercy and unending love
You may have gathered that I see myself as one who is cast adrift in a sea of ideas and concepts and experts and problems and opportunities. Cast adrift.
But before you feel sorry for me — or yourself if you share some of these same thoughts and feelings — please consider the great gift I (we) have been given.
Every moment of every day is like an exciting novel that I can lean into expectantly, anticipating the next turn in plot. I recently sat in a meeting where a friend talked about the unique possibilities of reading fiction, where a stream of events are strung together to form a plot line. We have no need to know everything that happens between those events. In truth, the great gift of fiction is seeing the pieces of the story that our imaginations provide.
Our imaginations, our resources for creativity, reside in the gaps between what we know and what we desire to know. The tragedy in our existence comes when we demand to know everything and accept nothing less. For in that quest, we assert ourselves as the know-all-and-end-all — the ultimate authority.
I have come to recognize the people in my life who I view as having true authority are those who live in a constant wash of humility. They share what they have learned and they constantly express their wonder at what they have yet to learn.
As I listen to people talk about a variety of subjects, including those on my list above, I am saddened by those who have ceased to live in that wonder. When we determine that we know all there is to know about anything and refuse to promote further exploration and curiosity, we begin to die.
I hope that I will never be the sum of all my experiences — that there will constantly be an unknown in my equations. I want to be blessed by the opportunity to gaze at the void, to wonder about the stretches of what it represents, and to experience the joy of discovery that God promises us.
And just because I can, I’m going to pick up a textbook in geometry.