A Series: Three 10 Minute Pieces
“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Ecclesiastes 1:18
Knowledge is Pizza
In the third grade we had a chart at the front of the classroom with every student’s name on it. Whenever we completed a book, we would receive a star on that board. Read two books, get two stars. You get the idea.
I certainly got the idea. I read voraciously – page after page, book after book. I was a star collector because those with the most stars received free Pizza Hut. And Pizza Hut was tops for my 3rd grade taste buds.
I think back to this because I wonder now about the message I received. Quantity, not quality, was very much the gear this program put me in. And, the implicit message was that reading more books and having more knowledge is a bountiful feast of thousands of delicious airy calories (Perhaps pizza was the fitting end to an exercise that visibly prized quantity only).
This is my earliest memory of knowledge – and the assurance is having more of it is viscerally good.
There is a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes. It is a so-called “Wisdom” book, and at one point it turns the stars-to-pizza program upside down: “Those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”
Imagine a class where it was not Pizza Hut served up but… well, what would it be? Stale bread? Moldy bread? Something guaranteed to make you throw up? What would be the food served up at the end of the readings to impress upon the class the truth about gaining knowledge? Could each completed assignment end with something that made clear the upside down truth of Ecclesiastes?
Knowledge is Suffering 101
Welcome to your semester course in the truth about knowledge. For every gain in knowledge, you will gain in pain. This is wisdom.
Your first assignment: read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Once completed, you will sleep in a tent under the rain for three nights. Only half of you will receive a sleeping bag.
Once you have memorized and played a piano selection of your choice, you will go into a soundproof room and listen to a 4th grade recorder concert on repeat. For three hours.
Once you successfully name every bone and muscle in the human body you will complete a ½ marathon without training. In boots. At 3am. See if you can successfully share with a doctor which parts need medical attention at the end of the run.
Once you have memorized and recited “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, you will be asked to continue meditating on that poem while a cell phone rings intermittently during your reflection.
Once you successfully cook a French gourmet meal of your choice, the next wedding you attend will mark the beginning of a three-day fast from food. When offered food, you will reply, “knowledge in pain,” and sip on the lukewarm bottle of water promised you once each day.
By the end of the class, you will literally ache for graduation. You will also be fit, thin, patient, and disciplined – able to suffer with the suffering. You will learn knowledge is suffering, and there is something noble in that.
For today, take out a pen and begin designing a bridge for crossing the James. Once complete, we will swim across it and spend out first night together as a class on Belle Isle.
Knowledge is Suffering 201
You may have not noticed 101 called for lots of skill development and memorization that led to bodily suffering. This course requires little of any of that. You will find suffering, though.
First assignment: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
Once memorized, do a family genealogy. Go and meet each living person in your extended family for a meal. Listen empathetically to their story. The one you like the least, write their funeral homily. Two rules: it must bring comfort and it must be true.
Second assignment: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
Once memorized, you will parent five foster children for a month.
Third assignment: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”
Once memorized, you have two options:
1. Forgive and reconcile with a once-close friend or family member. One rule: do not give up.
2. Have coffee with someone who voted opposite of you in the Presidential election. Only ask open, non-threatening, non-leading questions to explore their views. Look to learn. Write a follow-up thank you note expressing in detail a reason you are grateful for them.
Fourth assignment: “Love your enemies as yourself.”
Once memorized, party preparations will begin. On your next birthday party everyone who has ever known you will be present. You will stand in the center of their circle as they each, one at a time, share a specific reason you made a positive difference in their life. You will then read your most raw-and-honest writing piece from Valley’s Life in 10 Minutes class. That will be followed by joyful embraces from every person present. You cannot love your enemies until you deal with the pain of loving yourself. Enemies are 301.
At the end of the day everyone will share Pizza Hut. The meal is not seen as a prize for reaching your goal; rather, it is a visceral, taste bud reminder of childhood. We will be celebrating your becoming a child again.
Suffering to rebirth.
Now a child, you have the necessary soft-skinned humility and hope to deal with enemies in 301.