11 January 2012

If I knew then . . .

My father would often say, “If I knew then what I know now, I’d be a rich man today!” Then he would shake his head with sorrow, and stare off right through me and toward some distant past. What I think he might have meant was that if only he knew the end at the beginning, then the end at which he had arrived would have been different. For him life was all ends and not means, and the home from which he left every day was always a disappointment when he returned to it. He never knew or had enough, and he was always unhappy.
Lately, I’ve considered a new way to view the expression “If I knew then what I know now . . .” and it has something to do with the pleasure and regret intrinsic to learning that brings to me something new now which had I known about before would have enhanced my life then. I’m going to describe an insignificant event to illustrate what I mean. Several times on this blog I have referred to the place in which I work behind my home as Walden after the cabin made famous by Thoreau and in deference to the pond made infamous by Zonker in the Doonesbury cartoon strip. And I have referred often to the pleasure I have in carrying my early morning mug of coffee out here to begin the work. Now, one cup of coffee sipped leisurely in the early morning while I write and read and before I run delights me, but I rarely have desire for coffee later in the day. When the mug is empty, the coffee is finished.
And somewhere on the blog I have spoken of the pleasure I have learned in the brewing of the leaves purchased in a store that specializes in tea! And so for the past several years I have enjoyed a variety of teas, exotic and otherwise, in the late mornings and early afternoons.
Here we go: now, since I drink my coffee only in the morning, it never becomes too tepid or even cold to drink, nor, as I have said, do I ever return to the Coffee Press contraption to refill the cup, but the same is not true for the tea. Often I desire a second cup, especially since I often drink white or herbal teas (the latter often referred to, I have learned, as tisanes). As I have a special mug for my coffee, so do I have a specific glass for my tea, but this vessel holds only 12 ounces of liquid. The mechanism in which I steep the tea leaves contains almost 32 ounces, and to prevent the tea from continuing to brew while I enjoyed a fresh cup, I purchased a tea pot into which my brewed tea could be contained! But I discovered that in the tea pot the brewed tea cooled too quickly, and the next cup didn’t satisfy. And so I went to my local storeAmazon.com, to be exactand discovered something called a teapot warmer. I clicked the appropriate button, and in two days this lovely device arrived at my door.  I brewed my tea, poured it into my pot, lit the candle in the new tea pot warmer and set the filled tea pot on the warmer and lo and behold!, my tea stayed warm during the hours I worked.
I wish I had known about this system then because then I would have enjoyed the pleasure of drinking the tea that I receive from my having learned about the tea warmer now. But such is the paradox of learning that whenever I learn something new the delight in the now makes the then pale in comparison. What I need to learn is to experience no regret from not knowing something then, a condition that I know now is inevitable, and to take pleasure in the satisfactions to be gained in the learning now, however short-lived the results of this learning must be.
I’ll never know then what I know now: that is the point.


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