I suspect that there are often times when those of us who are adults wish that we might return to that age of innocence that was ours when we were children. We long for the times when we were yet to realize that evil and hatred exist in our midst. We ask ourselves when we began to lose our sense of wonder. How is it that we find ourselves lacking in trust? What makes us so afraid and reluctant to take risks? When do we begin to pull back on exploring the people and the world around us? Is it in fact true that ignorance is bliss? Does knowing too much make us unhappy?
Perhaps the lessons that we learn from life’s hard knocks teach us to be wary. One of my grandmothers came all the way from Slovakia all alone with little more than a few meager possessions and a profound faith that joining my grandfather in this foreign land would be a good move. For a time she threw herself wholeheartedly into work and learning about her new country but the strain of caring for an ever growing family and dealing with prejudice aimed at her and her kids sent her into a mental tailspin. She had a breakdown and ended up in the state mental hospital. Her trust was broken by this experience. When she returned home she never again left with the exception of the time when her appendix burst and she had to be rushed to the hospital. She was content to stay in the safety of the tiny house that defined the rest of her days. She chose to be purposely insulated from the horrors of the outside world. Her children became fully responsible for her care, paying bills, doing shopping, and repairing her home.
Most of us would not want to withdraw so permanently from reality and yet there is something rather tempting about no longer having to deal with the irritations that seem to take up so much of our time. Such are the dreams of hermits but the truth is that there is little chance that any of us might successfully ignore the ebb and flow of progress. We allow ourselves mental health days and vacations but we ultimately have to return to our duties. It is ridiculous for anyone to believe that there is a way to avoid the hurts that we begin to experience from our earliest childhood days.
We all remember the schoolyard bully who terrorized recess as well as the hero who shut him/her down. We learned how to watch for such people and how to avoid them when possible. We formed friendships that were based on immature connections. Sometimes they didn’t work out and we felt the sting of abandonment and loneliness. With each new experience we catalogued the pluses and minuses of how to react. The Forrest Gump in our natures slowly faded away but oh how we loved to see someone like him operating so fearlessly. It reminded us of the times before we skinned our knees and understood that putting our hands over a flame might result in a burn.
Of course we need to learn caution and how to interpret cues if we are to survive. Fright and flight is an instinct that we must have. We must discover how to tell the difference between good and bad just as importantly as we need the skills of reading and writing and arithmetic. We have to become adults and learn to fend for ourselves. It is the way things are.
The real problem is that even with careful attention and research we find ourselves wondering how we should respond. Should we open our hearts with openness and kindness or is it in reality a dangerous game to be so guileless? Is it wiser to enjoy life while we have the opportunity or should we be more inclined to saving for a rainy day? Do we allow ourselves to love and possibly be hurt or do we lock ourselves away in safety? Is the best person the one who works tirelessly or the one who makes time for family and friends? Who are we? What are our responsibilities? These questions and the like keep us awake at night and make us anxious and sometimes even filled with guilt. We see those who seem to care less than we do and wonder if they have found the secret to a good life or if they are simply selfish. Why can’t we go back to that lovely state of ignorance and should we even think of doing so?
We have watched bright lights among us being snuffed out far too soon because they relied on foreign substances to still the worries in their hearts. They became addicted to the false promises of alcohol and drugs, silent killers murdering their bodies and their souls. We have seen broken souls who were trampled by people to whom they gave their trust and their love. We wonder what we might have done to help them and why we were so busy looking the other way when they were in trouble. Why did we pretend to be ignorant. Did the not knowing really bring us the bliss that we wanted?
The wounded souls are all around us. It is difficult to see their pain and even harder to attempt to do something to help them and yet we all know of brave individuals who open themselves to criticism and misunderstanding by having the courage to take a stand. Whenever someone steps forward to admit to being human they are invariably subjected to insults. It is not easy to walk out of the dark shelter of a closet and tell the world exactly who we are and who we want to be. Just as my grandmother’s children had rocks thrown at them only because they were different from their neighbors, so too do we have a tendency to laugh at and torment those who appear different from ourselves. Where do we learn to do such things? Is it a fact that ignorance is not bliss at all but instead an evil that causes us to do and say ridiculous things? Is the truth that in learning we actually begin to free ourselves from the chains that bind us to our narrow minds? Should we be less afraid of venturing into unknown territory and more of never going outside? Does our isolation lead to the very heart ache that we most fear?
Each life is a blessed creation that should receive care and feeding. We are born to interact with the universe and to learn as much about ourselves and the people who share the world with us as we possibly can. The happiest souls are not the ones who shutter their windows and never risk being hurt. We become stronger and better even from the most difficult moments of our lives if we are willing to grow from each experience. Ignorance is a false bliss. Knowledge can be frightening but it can also bring truth and truth is ultimately what we all seek. No matter how much we want, it is unwise to turn a blind eye to reality. If we are to find happiness we must first be honest with ourselves. That means having a willingness to learn new ideas and to accept that nobody ever has all of the answers. Ours lives should be exciting adventures in which we steadily increase our knowledge of the world and its people. Regardless of the number of times that we stumble and fall its up to each of us to keep moving forward, ever forward.