Don’t know nothin’ bout nothin’: Grief, Oblivion and Armadillos

Don’t know nothin’ bout nothin’: Grief, Oblivion and Armadillos


“Sorrow makes us all children again —destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest knows nothing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


[I’ve been left in a state of not knowing by these odd mystical experiences and also by grief.  After our mother’s death, three years ago, I blogged through my grief and then turned the blog posts into a book on grief. The essay is taken from that book which will be out in the spring with Abingdon Press.]


Don’t know nothin’ bout nothin’

            In 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson lost his five-year-old son Waldo to scarlatina. Waldo died on January 27th, the date of our mother’s death. A few days later Emerson began journaling about his son’s death and his own grief. He wrote, “Sorrow makes us all children again —destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest knows nothing.”[i]

            Of all the things I have read about grief lately, those words ring the truest. As Dad likes to say lately, “We don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’.” Maybe this is one of the greatest gifts of sorrow; it strips us of our ordinary and often wrong-headed confidence in our own knowledge. Grief doesn’t render us dimwitted; it helps us see at last what was true all along. Oddly, there may be no more “advantageous” position for the spiritual life than knowing nothing.

            This morning before school, the girls were yelling from the bathroom. They had spotted an armadillo digging in the dirt just outside the window. Len and I ran to the bathroom to watch this astonishingly dense armadillo shuffling around in the dead leaves and digging its little holes. If the window had been open, we could have touched it, but the armadillo did not notice us. We love armadillos, but they are stupid creatures. They have these tiny little heads and tiny brains without much room for activity. And, on top of that, their vision is lousy. There we all were with our faces pressed to the window just a few feet from this armadillo. But the armadillo noticed nothing. Nothing. Nada. Dense, stupid, near senseless armadillo.

            Maybe that’s us with our tiny little brains and astonishingly poor vision. God and the saints and the angels and the heavenly hosts are just an arms-length away, close enough to touch. We see and hear nothing, but just keep shuffling around in the leaves, digging our little holes. They look on, astonished that we could be so oblivious—and they love us still.


[from Miles, When the One You Love Is Gone: Finding Hope and Healing in the Pilgrimage of Grief (Abingdon Press, 2012).]


[i] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Heart of Emerson’s Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Riverside Press, 1926), 173. 

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Malina on February 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Beka, I’m so excited about your blog! If you ever need a possum story I have many…you know Nathan and I had a possum family that moved in our old apartment with us….I realize that’s not the point of this post but still thought I would offer:)


    • Thanks Malina. Yes, I want to hear the possum stories! Possums are crazy. Anna taught me to identify hiding possums by their unique smell. Great to hear from you, my niece. Love to Nathan and Lexi. Love, Beka


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