Time is funny that way.
When I set out a mere several hundred days ago, I never could have known all the worlds these words would take me, all the lives it would bring into mine. I look at these letters lined up, marching one right after the other, created out of nothingness and brought into the world to say ‘I’m here.’ And you have responded, ‘me too.’ I am more convinced than ever that this world, this life, is a common place, one we walk through together.
My ‘blogiversary’ aptly coincides with the turn of a calendar year. I have always loved New Years. While it once meant frolicking on the streets of Philadelphia with old friends, now, more often, it involves sitting in sweatpants with a glass of red wine and the crackle of the countdown broadcast in the background. But always, wherever you are, it feels like early morning—full of promise and possibility. Reflection and reminiscence.
It is a clean slate. A blank page. Untouched, unmarred, unknown. Like newly fallen snow. Footstep-free.
There was a book I read in college that had a profound impact on me. I recently re-read excerpts of it. The Crisis of Democratic Theory by Edward A. Purcell, Jr., and specifically chapter 4, explores how the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry transformed intellectual thought. In a nutshell, non-Euclideanism proved that alternate, valid mathematical truths could exist other than Euclid’s, which were (up until that point) considered absolute.
Suddenly knowledge—about how the mind and world work, across disciplines—was no longer presumed to be a priori, or innately true (as opposed to discovered through logic and experience):
“The concept of non-Euclideanism…robbed every rational system [religious, social, ethical] of any claim to be in any sense true, except insofar as it could be proved empirically to describe what actually existed.”
“Horace M. Kallen concluded that it was impossible to discover, much less validate, any single, universal system of ethical beliefs.”
“Certainty has vanished, and there is no hope at present of its return in any form which we might recognize.” – Eric Temple Bell
At the risk of butchering the philosophy for the sake of simplifying it here: these theorists suggest that there is no irrefutable objective reality, no single truth. Only our experience of it, our being in the world. This is all we know for sure.
Nothing is inherently right or good.
No one belief is superior to any other. Because it is fundamentally impossible to prove the truth of any of it.
Michael Frayn wrote the compelling play Copenhagen, which explores a meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941. He has a haunting quote in the postscript:
“And since, as the Copenhagen Interpretation establishes, the whole possibility of saying or thinking anything about the world, even the most apparently objective, abstract aspects of it studied by the natural sciences, depends upon human observation, and is subject to the limitations which the human mind imposes, this uncertainty in our thinking is also fundamental to the nature of the world.”
All knowledge is subjective. Uncertainty is inevitable. It is part of the very fabric of our shared human experience; it underlies the fundamental nature of all things. It is of necessity.
And it softens, humbles us. It opens us to the possibility that we are wrong. That we know not everything. That someone, somewhere—elsewhere—sees things differently. And they are right, as we are. That we shall hold a space beside us, across from us, millions of miles away from us for others to coexist, walk alongside, perceive—in their inevitably idiosyncratic way. In the way only they can. In the way they must. And speak of it, and write of it, in their necessarily unique voice. And if there exists a kernel of commonality, of understanding, of the ability to relate, well then, coexistence. Community. Connection. These become possible.
The only truth is that there is none.
All we can know is that we cannot know anything for sure.
Jarring, perhaps. But freeing too. I’m comforted by this uncertainty. The thought that as little as I can know to be true, it is the same for you. And so we walk together. Living in the questions. Comforting each other. Lifting each other up.
It is in good company that we timidly turn this calendar page, round this corner.
We can stop searching, seeking, yearning for something else, more, different. For an answer. For some other life. For we are, right here, in this moment, all that we are meant to be.
Let’s softly saunter through this shared world of ours, unsuspecting, unassuming, open to possibility. There is only this day. Only this moment. Only our experience of it.
The blank page.
The year ahead.
Let’s simply set out and see what will be.
*Parts of this post were inspired by my dear and talented writer friend, Barbara Mahany, and the deeply moving experience I had as part of a two-week writing group called ‘What If You Knew,’ led by Jena Schwartz.