We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

A month or so ago, my husband and I decided it was time to start the home buying process. We connected with a realtor who came highly recommended by a friend. She pointed us to a lender so we could get the paperwork started and get an idea of how much house we could afford.

And it all started to overwhelm me.

Last week, I started taking a class for first-time homebuyers. It’s a series of three classes spread out over a week and I’ve left the first two in tears. I had no idea home buying was so difficult. Maybe it isn’t for everyone, but the whole process sounds more terrifying than fun.

Until we started researching and asking questions and taking steps, we didn’t know all the things we didn’t know about buying a house. And we still don’t know even a quarter of it, I’m sure.

For a couple of smart people, this seems to be a theme lately.

Just a few days ago, we got our van stuck on a road we probably should not have been on. (You can read that story here, if you want to.) There is little else that is as humbling as having your van immoveable on a road that is clearly meant for all-wheel-drive vehicles and having to rely on the help of strangers. It’s good, but it’s humbling.

But then there are the times where what I know is different from what others know. And I want them to rise to my state of enlightenment. Sometimes it makes me angry.

Let me illustrate.

I attended a breakfast for school volunteers. It was raining. This particular event seems to always be on a rainy day, probably because it’s April and we live in an area that has seasons. I had no umbrella. I wasn’t even wearing a rain jacket. I dashed inside, enjoyed the program and the breakfast, and left when it was over. On my way out, a woman who was at the breakfast passed me, carrying her umbrella.

“Good luck getting to your car,” she said.

I took that to mean that it was pouring. She seemed to be on her way back to the cafeteria to wait it out. When I arrived at the front doors of the school, I observed the rain and decided I had no choice but to go for it. It was just a little rain.

Because I’ve been spending a lot more time in the city where we live, as opposed to the rural areas that surround it, I thought of all the people who would be going through their day without letting the rain interrupt them. Because they would have to. And I started to get mad at this woman I didn’t know because she had an umbrella and she had driven a car to the breakfast and her level of discomfort because of the rain was going to be so small compared to some others.

Later that same day, I was in the city, walking again without an umbrella as were so many. Even the ones with umbrellas were still walking. It was just rain. It couldn’t stop them from going about their day. Maybe they had to get to work. Or school. Maybe a car wasn’t a choice. And even if it was, a car in the city is more of a hassle than a help, even on a rainy day.

I was still harboring some anger at the woman from earlier, but as I walked the city I remembered that only a year ago, I would not have known what I know about people in the city. I, too, would have complained about the rain.

I was in the city that day to meet with a group of refugee women. We get together every other week just to be together and practice English. Sometimes it’s a lesson about parenting or relationships. Other times it’s more fun, like yoga. This day, we were watching a movie.

It was a movie about Sudanese refugees resettling in the United States. Normally, this would be the kind of movie I would watch to inspire my own devotion to refugee resettlement. I hadn’t heard of this movie before. Most of the women spoke at least a little Spanish, so we turned on Spanish subtitles.

As the movie played and showed the struggles refugees experience as they flee war and live in camps, I started squirming. These women were not from Africa, but I didn’t know what kinds of experiences they had had in coming to the United States. Had some of them walked hundreds or thousands of miles to get to the border? Were their own hardships coming to mind as they watched? And why on earth do we westerners think this is entertainment? (There is nothing wrong with watching a movie that inspires action. Not at all.)

I left when the group was over. We hadn’t finished the movie. And I kept thinking about how a year ago, I would not have thought any differently about watching a movie about refugees. I would have welcomed it as a necessary part of my education. And it still is that, but now that I’ve met actual refugees who have experienced the things I have only seen in movies, my perspective has changed. Now it’s not just a movie. It’s someone’s real-life experience.

When I know something, I want everyone to know it, too. But my knowing didn’t happen overnight or in an instant. It’s a journey.

We all have something that we know that we wish other people also knew. A perspective on suffering or grief or hardship. A backstory that explains our behaviors, actions, beliefs.

And we’re always learning something we didn’t know. We can never fully know what we don’t know and sometimes the more we learn, the more we discover there is to learn.

So, I’m understanding that it’s okay to know things as long as I acknowledge that there is more to know. Always.

Have you ever discovered that you didn’t know what you didn’t know?

What have you learned recently that challenges or inspires you?

Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. […] can read the rest of this post at Putting on the New. I blog there on the 12th of each […]

Speak Your Mind