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?