“I have a lot of edges called Perhaps and almost nothing you can call Certainty.” – Mary Oliver, Angels
I’m a big believer in Perhaps, though I know Certainty has its place in this world. Certainty dances in the world of STEM. I’m grateful for Certainty and those who pursue it, but I like where Perhaps dances. Those who know me know that I use the word often, and likely too much. So be it, I find Certainty less… fascinating. So it was a delight to read Mary Oliver’s poem and read that line. Why did it take me so long to get around to it, I wonder? Dabbling too much in the world of Certainty I suppose.
You want Certainty? Certainty is a kettle whistling when the water boils enough that steam trapped inside screams to get out, now! How many mornings have I been quietly lost in thought, reading or writing when that kettle calls for my immediate attention? Countless. And I appreciate Certainty knocking on my forehead now and then, prodding me back to reality. I don’t especially like to linger in Certainty but I find it comforting to visit once in awhile.
Mary’s famous line from “Angels” is this:
“I don’t care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s enough to know that for some people they exist, and that they dance.” – Mary Oliver, Angels
I don’t think all that much of angels dancing on pins either, but do I think of ghosts whispering history when I arrive at places of significance and listen raptly as the oaks welcome me back to their woods. Places speak, if you’ll listen and observe. There is no better practitioner of observation than the poet. Sure, scientists do pretty well too, but I’d contend that they’re secretly poets with a formal education. But what of religion? Isn’t that Certain? Believers might tell you there’s Certainty in the Bible. I’d contend that there’s far more Perhaps in the Bible than Certainty. Zealots arrive at Certainty about their religious views or their political views or their social views and work to impose Certainty on others. We get in trouble when too many people arrive at a Certainty that conflicts with the other guy’s Certainty. Leave room for Perhaps.
So we’ve entered a strange new world, stranger than the world we’ve been living in for some time now (and that was pretty strange indeed). It seems a good time to look inward, to turn off the panic news and read the works of those who came before us. The poets and Stoics and Transcendentalists and philosophers. They dealt with far more uncertainty and death than we have (they’re all dead after all). Shouldn’t we learn more from them?
Whatever you believe, leave a little room for Perhaps. That’s where you’ll find me most of the time. Come visit now and then if you like. I’d certainly like that.