This post is dedicated to the memory of my sister Carol Ann, who died August 7, 2008 at age 50 from cancer. It is adapted from a meditation I shared at her funeral.

Most of my life, I’ve been an academic type, living from my head, and rarely saying “I don’t know.” Not wanting to waste time, I got started early being arrogant. As a kid, I swore my grandma up and down that a spider was an arachnid, not an insect. Yes, a spider is an arachnid; but to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, facts are not truth if in speaking them we don’t respect relationships.

I think I was in college when Carol Ann finally got fed up with my know-it-all attitude and decided to put me told. She could be direct if she wanted to, but this time she was subtle. I don’t remember the occasion—perhaps it was Christmas or my birthday—but she gave me a little wooden plaque, 3×5 or maybe 4×6, that simply said “All knowledge is from God.” Translation: “You ain’t all that. Once in awhile say you don’t know.”

So let me practice saying what my sister encouraged and invited me to say. If you should ask me why there are people of advanced age who long to die but cannot, while a woman of 50 who struggled mightily against her disease should succumb to it: “I don’t know.” Why I should lose my sister who in spite of myself continued to love and respect me: “I don’t know.” Why our parents should have to say goodbye to their daughter, when, as Dave Matthews once sang, “No one should have to bury their own babies” (“Gravedigger”): “I don’t know.” Why her son on the edge of adolescence and her daughter emerging into adulthood should be without a mother at such critical times in their lives: “I don’t know.” Why her husband should be bereft of the love of his life and the mother of his children: “I don’t know.”

But I have come to believe that in the long run knowing is not so important as being known: opening your soul to another’s gaze, sharing secrets with someone you trust, being vulnerable enough to love and be loved. By friends and family. By God.

Carol Ann understood all that, a fact evidenced by the crowd at her funeral. They were people who respected and loved her for her compassion and openness, her example of joyful contentment with what she had. She knew what was important. And she reminded us all by her never-faltering faith that if we must claim to know something, simply say this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham