A few months ago, my husband James bought me two tickets to see Krista Tippett at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, where she was to be interviewed for NPR. She had just written and published her book, “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.” I attended the event with a friend and we both bought a copy of her signed book.
The book is held together by 5 concepts: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. Because she is a journalist and interviewer, the book is filled with parts of interviews with various people. She shares her own stories as well.
I can't say that I came away from this book with a clear-cut answer to the mystery and art of living. Each of us is going to interpret these concepts differently, but Krista does her best to delve into their meaning in a kind of worldly way, a humankind way.
She wrote this book when the world, and especially the country, is even more divided between those on the right and those on the left, the rich and the poor. So she invites us to think of ourselves as part of one family, one world, one human experience. It feels similar to what she does with her NPR radio show, “On Being.”
One thing that strikes me about this book is that she chose to interview and get into conversations with people who are humble and yet deeply intelligent. If there’s anything to take away from this book, is that we are all wise (or becoming wise), in our own way. But those who are most wise, are open to hearing, to listening, to being humble, and to being vulnerable.
As she points out early on in the book: “Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet.” She goes on to say:
“Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability—a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.”
She also reminds us that in spite of all the pain and suffering in the world, truly wise people are able to find joy, to laugh, including at oneself.
I am now reading “The Book of Joy,” which are conversations with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they are continuously laughing and teasing one another. Even though they are world leaders, even when they’ve both seen and experienced so much suffering themselves, they are able to laugh, find joy.
So, wisdom is about being able to laugh at oneself, not taking everything so seriously. What else have I learned about wisdom?
Wisdom is about allowing yourself to be surprised, to never be in control, to allow yourself to be with pain and suffering, to be vulnerable in front of those we disagree with, to find a human connection. She says: “Surprise is the only constant. We are never really running the show, never really in control, and nothing will go quite as we imagined it.”
It is acknowledging and owning our weaknesses and frailties:
Wisdom is also standing back from being the solution, it’s about holding space, being present and with, but not try to change things.
Finally, wisdom is knowing that pain is part of life. That there are always two sides. As Krista so eloquently writes at the very end of the book:
“We often don’t trust that rebirth will follow the death of what we thought we knew. We sense that somehow what comes next is up to us, but we’re not sure where to begin. Yet it’s precisely in these moments when we let our truest, hardest questions rise up in our midst, allow their place among us, that we become able to live into them rather than away and to do so together. We are so achingly frail and powerful all at once, in this adolescence of our species. But I have seen that wisdom emerges precisely through those moments when we have to hold seemingly opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay: power and frailty, birth and death, pain and hope, beauty and brokenness, mystery and conviction, calm and buoyancy, mine and yours.”
I sense that this is a book dedicated to the human race. It acknowledges us in all our intricacies, our frailties, and our strengths. It recognizes that love, faith and hope are not cut and dried emotions. It also strongly reinforces the connection we have with one another in this world. With our enemies as well as with our friends and family. It reminds us how important engagement is.
The final answer is that there is no final answer. We are all in the adolescence of life, learning, growing, trying to understand, even when we’re becoming wise. It is all about becoming, coming into being, which is never, never done.