At 50, I've Finally Realized It's OK to Say "I Don't Know"
One writer on the life lesson she's come to embrace over time.
Biting into a forkful of lemony raw kale feels to me like life itself. But also? So do Cheez-Its. These are two true things. I am a grammar nerd—a lifelong defender of the distinction between, say, “I” and “me”—who doesn’t correct anybody anymore because I’m starting to think language is yours to do with as you like. I am an extroverted introvert. I love cooking; I hate making dinner every night. I have a friend who’s lots of fun but a terrible confidant. I dance and drink with her. I tell her nothing important. Light can be both wave and particle. I don’t know quantum mechanics, but I’m starting to understand the possibility of impossible contradictions.
Newly 50, I’m living inside a buoyant, illuminated greenhouse of ambiguity rather than the dark and certain cell of my own past conviction. “I don’t know” is something I say all the time now. “I’m not sure.” I still fight with my husband—I pick one of our 30-year battles about emotional responsibility, atonement, the laundry, the compost—but sometimes I nod and say, “Maybe I’m wrong,” and he laughs, the thought bubble over his head asking, “Who are you?”
This gentling worldview does not represent an absence of passion or a wimpy concession to bullies, injustice, racism, or mansplainers. I’m not ambivalent about bigotry, and I have abundant ideas and plenty to say. But in other cases, I’m learning to hold two different, even opposing, truths rather than always judging one to be wrong and chucking it to the wolves.
My queer teenage daughter has explained the term genderqueer to me—the way it doesn’t ask you to pick a single gender from a system that imagines only opposites; your body is not a form on which you have to check “male” or “female.” I identify strongly as a woman. But I am starting to think that I might be, I don’t know, ideaqueer. Lifequeer. I can’t pick—am suddenly not sure I ever had to. My English mother uses the expression “in your altogether” for nakedness, and I love it so much. It feels like the perfect metaphor for wholeness laid bare. I’m living in my altogether.
But also? Even this is not certain, my alleged uncertainty. Because I am picturing my beloveds reading this—my husband and children, a dear friend with whom I’ve been politically at odds, my opinionated father, the readers of my etiquette column—and laughing. “Reeeeeally?” they might think, or say. “You’re not sure what you think?” And I will have to say, truthfully, with the leafy greens and the junk food laid out on my metaphorical table, “Yes. And also no.”