I'm Amazed By What I Don't Know

Leonard Cohen died last week. He was 82. News of his death surprised me because I’d just seen an article about him last month in The New Yorker. I didn’t read the article, so I didn’t know any more about him at his death than I did before I’d seen the article.

The name sounded familiar to me, but two months ago, if someone asked me who Leonard Cohen was I would have had two guesses.

First, I would have guessed that he was that guy from Star Trek, confusing him with Leonard Nimoy. Although in fairness to myself, there was a physical resemblance between the two men, especially as they grew older.

Next, I would have guessed that he was a classical music composer, confusing him with Leonard Bernstein.

Not until after his death did I begin to discover Leonard Cohen and his work. I’ve listened to a lot of it in the past week. His most recent release, You Want it Darker, is heavy, haunting and pure awesomeness. But when social media went crazy about Kate McKinnon’s performance of Hallelujah—which is a classic Leonard Cohen song—I didn’t know the song at all.

In addition to thrilling me with the prospect of digging through all of Cohen’s past work, my realization that I was completely ignorant of Leonard Cohen was just a reminder of how much I don’t know.

I like to think I’m smart. I’m a decent Trivial Pursuit partner, I know history rather well, I’ve read some books, and I can solve quadratic inequalities. Yet, I’m amazed by what I don’t know. More often than I’d like to admit I encounter a fact, or a concept, or a pop culture reference that it seems everyone else in the world already knows.

I’ve probably written a million words over the past eighteen years or so. Yet only in the past twelve months have I discovered that never mind is not one word. Nevermind. No, that’s wrong. It’s never mind.

Newfound. That’s a word, too. One word, not two. News to me.

A friend mentioned the rheumatologist today and I discovered that a rheumatologist does more than treat arthritis. News to me.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for me, unfortunately. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t know that pickles came from cucumbers until I was a teenager. Like late teens. Sixteen, seventeen. How does a person go through life that long without realizing that pickles look a lot like cucumbers? I knew about grapes and raisins, and plums and prunes, but cucumbers and pickles? Mind blowing!

Every time I have an experience like I’ve had with Leonard Cohen, I’m left with the same question: who else don’t I know? What other brilliant songs and musicians have I missed? How did I manage to miss what seemingly everyone else picked up?

I guess one way I can look at the intellectual black holes and pop culture shortcomings of my mind, is that I still get to experience the joy of discovery.

I distinctly recall turning on Imagine by John Lennon for the first time for my youngest son last year. We listened to it together, and I envied his ability to enjoy the song for the first time. I have almost all of Leonard Cohen’s discography to enjoy for the first time. That’s not nothing.

In the meantime, (that’s one word, not two, I got that right!) I just have to hope that I discover my ignorance before it makes me look too ignorant. I’m amazed at what I don’t know, but I hope not too many other people are amazed at what I don’t know.

So if you know anything that you think I might not know, please tell me. Or if you see me making a fool of myself by using words like nevermind, speak up! I appreciate the joy of discovery, but I also appreciate the joy of not looking like an idiot.

For now I’ll go back into my world of unknown unknowns and try to imagine what I don’t know.

At least now I have a whole new set of amazing music to add to the soundtrack of stuff I know.

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