Mourning Unknown Unknowns

snuffed out candle

Recent interactions have left me seriously contemplating life’s “what ifs” and “if onlys.” These musings aren’t fueled by feelings of regret for my own wasted potential, but rather a sense of longing and lament for all the potential beauty this world will never know but should have and would have known “if only.” I feel a sorrow akin to grief for the broken dreams that remain unspoken yearnings, dreams whose fulfillment may have brought such needed light into much needed spaces “if only.” Yet, we live so unaware of the radiance and vivacity that could avail an otherwise dimmed world.

In a Department of Defense briefing, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated the following:

“…there are known knowns…things we know we know [and] known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout history…it is the latter category that tend[s] to be difficult…”

Although he was referring to uncertainty in the context of national security, I have to believe Secretary Rumsfeld’s logic transcends his specified topic. The things we aren’t even aware of not knowing are most problematic in life – the unknown unknowns – the most problematic, yet often, the least considered. I’ve heard too many stories of dreams, not just deferred, but destroyed by harsh critics whose scathing words seared shut the repository of creativity and resplendent joy the world will now miss out on. There are too many brilliant unknowns we’ll never even know we could’ve experienced because some careless comments damped the lamp that could’ve blazed a path for so many.

As I shared on Facebook, there’s something about wasted potential that saddens me to my core, something about knowing there are people whose light, and love, and beauty the world may never know, whose untapped genius may never change the world into what it might have been because it went unnoticed, or unappreciated, or worse, because mere mortals used mere words to dim the light that could’ve shone so brightly.

For some, those scalding words toughen them on the outside, never again letting pain dig to far in while never letting love all the way out, either. They strive harder and accomplish more, but do so in a spirit of rebellion against the rest of the world. You hear them echoing torts of the past, “I made it, no thanks to my teacher who said I’d never amount to anything.” By the time they’ve “made it,” they’re often hardened toward the vulnerability that could set this world ablaze with such ardor and grace. Even this type of “making it” causes the rest of humanity to lose out on what could have been if words of life were spoken instead. Sadly, yet another group exists — those who wilt under the scorching heat of wanton words, those who shrink back, who give up, who never bare their souls, whose torches have been tapered, whose greatness we’ll not experience.

If our words can revive even the faintest of heartbeats and bring life where death once loomed, if they could stir the smoldering embers, put a whimsical twinkle back into they eyes of those who would have lost heart, wouldn’t it be worth it to aspire to always speak life? Wouldn’t it be worth it to not have to mourn the unknown unknowns, to experience those things that we didn’t even know we needed in our lives and to help others produce those things they don’t yet know they’re designed to contribute, to minister to the hurts they didn’t know they could heal and do the unimaginable? What if our words of life could brighten each fading light by just one lumen? Couldn’t a change like that light up the sky?

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brighten each light

What if we each brightened one fading light?

21 responses to “Mourning Unknown Unknowns

  1. This is a very mind bending post. I throughly enjoyed reading it. You have captured a lot of truths about this world. In my quest to find the answer to a known unknown, I have concluded that sometimes in life there are no answers, just lessons to be learned. The key is to stop and observe what one is going through, step outside of your box, and look at the problem from a different perspective. The human eye is able to see the light of a single candle from 3000 feet away on a moonless night. Imagine what we could see if we are able to look at our problems and see the grand picture of life? This post will keep my mind pondering the unknown unknown.


    • glorifying God and so glad to hear it blessed you and in such a way that you’d speak words back that bless me, as well! thank you so, so much, patrick!! WOW…that’s a great visual for exactly what i was saying…imagine if we could light more candles…imagine how much more we WOULD, indeed see! thx, again, for reading and commenting! 🙂

  2. I can’t help but think of my children as I read your post. I think about the words I say to them… Am I creating this phenomenon in them? Or, are my words encouraging them and aiding them toward their God given path? I pray it is the second. I pray my words are light to those in my sphere of influence. I aspire to always speak life. Thank you for this thought, and the encouragement to be mindful of my impact on others.

    • oh my. yes. yes, indeed. our words, as parents are oh so important! our words, our tone, even the looks we can sometimes shoot our children. my children know when i give them a look that shows my disapproval of their behavior versus my frustration with them…i try not to do the latter b/c it conveys “i’m frustrated with YOU”…and i’d rather get that their behavior is not okay, not that THEY are not okay. and i aiding them toward their God-given path? exactly that, ma’am! thanks so much for reading and commenting; you’ve given me even more to continue pondering in His presence! another question i often ask myself is whether or not i want my children to be like me when they grow up…that motivates me toward graceful and grace-filled living, constantly! 🙂

    • one word at a time, Susan! for sure and thank you so, so much for the simple words of encouragement. God be praised. indeed, i believe change truly can occur…i believe and plan to be a part of that change! i don’t want anyone to neutrally leave my presence. if you’ve come into my space, i want you to leave better than you were before we crossed paths. the world needs more of this. 🙂

  3. What a good and timely posting. Very well written, very well thought out and very well said. What if we could scrape off the blackened wick and relight the candle, perhaps, for some, you just did. I hope your posting stays on the surface long enough for others to see. Unknown to me I felt this as if in a dream I had been there too.

    • oh, amen!! scraping off the outed wick and relighting the candle…our words, our stopping to care and bring light…can be so, so powerful! WOW! it’s like that quote goes: a candle loses no light by lighting another candle…<<<it's so true; it will do nothing but brighten our world a bit more! oh praise God that it would touch you so deeply. glory to God; i look forward to growing along with you! thx for reading n commenting!

  4. Great article; thank you for taking us to that place. I want to extend those thoughts to the multiple millions of babies who were murdered in the womb, but its too overwhelming to ponder.

    • thanks so much for reading and commenting! further, thank YOU for taking me to “that place,” as well! so, so true! like, my heart is heavy for the beauty, and art, and emotional healing n joy so many will miss out their parents, they’re known unknowns..but to the rest of the world, we just glide on by, day-by-day, not even knowing what and who will be missed. i’m a mother of one of those babies you’re referring to. the thought is heavy to ponder, overwhelming, indeed, but so, so worth going to “that place” and mourning the loss of God-ordained life and love of which the world has now been robbed. thanks, again, for sharing! 🙂

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