There is a song by John Prine called One Red Rose. The chorus repeats, What I never knew I never will forget. It is a song of love and the softening of grief. I have been listening to a cover of this song recently. Its simplicity touches me. Have you ever lost someone… and then learned something about them, something you never knew till after your loved one was gone? That experience may or may not be what the song lyrics point to, but continuing to get to know my loved ones is a sensitivity which that song provokes in me.
This feeling… of continuing to get to know someone even after they are gone… has been for me an awakening. The experience of it chips away at what I think I know and opens up the possibility that there is way more, profoundly so much more, to each of us than ever can ever be known. When we think we know someone we limit our experience of them. In a very direct way, thinking we know someone limits our capacity to love them. This has been, at least for me, one of life’s lessons.
Realizing I can never fully know someone is akin to our understanding of listening and letting go. To listen, we don’t just let go of outcome, we let go of what we think we know. I have experienced this recently while listening to a guest whom I’ve known and listened to for just about a year. This person is soft spoken, smiles easily, strikes me as having an inner stability that just radiates out from her. I’ve listened to her speak about her career, her marriage, her upbringing, the crafts she is passionate about and expertly skilled in. In a year of listening I have learned a lot about her and I have the sense that I know her.
This past week she mentioned a detail about her life, as if it was a small thing – an oh, by the way thing. I had seen a familiar face in the crowd and casually mentioned to my guest, “There’s the woman who is the director of such-n-such organization.” My guest responded, rather casually, that she was amongst the original group of people who started that organization forty years ago.
This is an organization which served me during a time of need and for which I am deeply grateful. The fact that my guest, whom I have known for a year and grown very fond of (very attached to – truth be told), was a founder of this organization… surprised me! I was so surprised – my head was spinning: how come this wasn’t the first thing I learn about her a year ago?!?
As it turns out, not knowing is full of surprise.
There are countless ways that we can respond to surprise. We could be frightened by surprise. We could be delighted by it. We could be offended, intrigued, mystified… what else?
As I grow in my listening, in my love for the practice of listening and in my love of life I understand the value of opening myself over and over again to be surprised. To not know. To allow everyone, including myself, to be just as we are. As I live life, I choose – to the best of my ability in the moment – to delight in the mystery of surprise. It is mysterious and a welcomed delight that I can continue to get to know a loved one after they’ve gone. It is a mystery, a delight, and an honor, to not wait till someone is gone to be surprised by who they are. What I never knew I never will forget.
on behalf of Marcia and myself,
all our gratitude for the surprise of who you are,