One of my quote-a-day subscriptions recently sent this, from Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969, p. 37):
“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!”
I love being a beginner.
Much as I enjoy playing expert, teaching people useful stuff, explaining things that confuse them, I’m happiest when I’m learning something. Yes, I love using my new knowledge or showing off a new skill, but I’m always curious about what comes next, what lies underneath, they why of things.
My mother told me that the second word I ever said (after “No!”) was “Why?”. She have been right. (Personally, I’d put it third, after “Panda!”. I distinctly remember saying that one, when I was very, very young.)
Why? was my favorite word all the way through school, and I seriously annoyed almost all of my teachers with it. Most teachers wanted me to remember facts, lots of facts. Since I could do that easily, they didn’t want to waste time with explanations and background information. They especially didn’t want me to ask why? when they told me to do something, or repeated a school rule.
The Why? obsession drove me to major in the sciences, instead of English (which would have been much easier for me). After college, that same Why? obsession led me to work as an R&D chemist.
I still ask Why? (or, sometimes, Why not?) manymany times a day: reading the news, developing websites, writing technical documentation, reading a book, learning new music, talking with friends, working out a project plan, even potting plants. Each Why? leads me to search for (and usually find) an answer, but there is always another Why? lurking in the background, and another behind that, and another, and another. Always more to learn, more to understand.
I will always be a beginner, and I’m OK with that. Really.