The other day I asked my 5-year-old granddaughter how she liked school. I got a tight smile and a dash of devil in her eyes. She put out her fist with her thumb extended. She turned it parallel to the floor, jiggled it, and said: “Sideways. So-so.”
She could have seen someone else do that and thought it was cute. As a grandparent, though, I naturally thought that there must be something more profound to her surprising gesture.
Perhaps she had encountered Meno’s Paradox of Learning where, if you know something, there is no need to learn it and if you don’t know it, you don’t know what to look for.
Of course, she probably knew that Socrates disproved that logic.
More likely, she discovered that school, while good, wasn’t always good. There were not-so-fun times as well.
Maybe she likes to paint, but not always when they’re told to. She wants to read by herself when her teacher is reading to all. She doesn’t like moving on to another subject when things are interesting.
Maybe her sideways thumb is a sign she is learning something important. The great paradox is not in learning but in life.
We live between opposites — between joy and sadness, faith and doubt, hope and despair, peace and violence. The hard part of the paradox is that the greater intensity of the good, the greater the risk of its opposite.
The more we love someone, the greater the pain when we lose them. The greater our faith, the more likely doubt will try to shake it. The greater our hope, the more the threat of despair. The greater our security, the more we fear losing it.
Nature brings together opposites. There would be no dawn without the darkness of night, and no sunset without the dying of the day. There would be no explosion of life in spring without the cold death of winter.
“I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe ...” Isaiah quotes the Lord Who reigns in the “both/and,” not the “either/or.”
Holding the opposites together, we become whole. We realize our strength is in our weakness, our gaining in our losing, our receiving in our giving, and our living in our dying. We indeed find rest under a yoke.
The next time someone asks you how things are, stick out your thumb sideways and wiggle it. Let them figure it out.