Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I Forgot the Question

But Arlen Specter is the answer. These days lunch could not be complete without looking up some piece of trivia on a smart phone. I don’t have one but my friends always do. It leaves no question unanswered except, perhaps, for the meaning of life, what are we doing here and what just went wrong with our country. As for Arlen Specter, Google him if it matters.

I doubt if any of our ancestors had as much knowledge crammed into their grey matter as we do. Our heads are stuffed with gigabytes (whatever that means) of facts. Too bad knowledge doesn’t translate into wisdom. Was it Plato or Yogi Berra who said that, knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad. Actually it was Miles Kington who deserves attribution. He also said that a pessimist sees a glass as half empty. An optimist is the guy who drinks what’s there’s and orders another. I know all this because I just looked it up…but at least I waited till I came home.

Given my creeping senility and early signs of nominal aphasia I expect to forget his name by next week, deleted in the clutter. Knowledge has a shelf life. Wisdom is more like what we know but cannot quite articulate. Wisdom is likely to be an interrogation. Why and How rather than Who or When. Possibly what happened when we didn’t notice. The ineffable. A instance of congruence in the discord. A pattern seen from a distant perch.

Knowledge has its place. It is one step ahead of info, data and nomenclature. If they opened me up out would come pouring a compendium of pharmaceutical terms, a dictionary of words and an encyclopedia of political events, a smattering of history & geography, a gaggle of ballplayers, movies, actors, big-band leaders and a libretto or two from Gilbert and Sullivan. The stuff that might get you on Jeopardy.     

It may be that wisdom comes in two sizes: petite and extra-large. The tiny wisdoms probably depend on a fair amount of basic knowledge. One couldn’t draw lessons from Karl Marx  without familiarity, at least, with the language of economics. There’s even wisdom in Harpo. Sort of like knowing what it takes not to add tomato (or ketchup) to the fruit salad. Harpo got to us with a shrug, a nod and a honk.

The great wisdom said to be found at the foot of the Himalayas or the bottom of your oatmeal bowl comes to those with a mind empty of distraction, ego and noise. When the Zen novice arrives at the monastery seeking answers he is told to wash his bowl. The floating world is that which eludes Google over lunch but may be accessible to the dishwasher in his reverie. In simplicity and silence one learns to listen for the wisdom which lies within.

Peggy knows all this. The poet doesn’t exert herself scrambling for the word. She receives it. The poet is not only a seeker, she is a finder. There is an art in the joy of irresolution, in the universal muck. It presumes a portal to the unknown. That may be the only wisdom I have ever witnessed.

Yes, Virginia, life is a fountain and a journey but those have exhausted themselves into platitudes. Wisdom is more likely to be found in the roots of an old ficus tree, Liszt's First Piano Concerto, a succulent peach or in Harpo's overcoat with his one roller skate, (unsmart) telephone and a cup of coffee... artifacts of a fractured civilization. He saw a broken piano and made a harp of it.