Impossible is the Only Impossible

(I was going to post this the weekend of September 25th but with the passing of Justice Ginsberg, this feels like a better time)

A mourning dove coos on the shimmering ridgetop above me. Down here, I’m descending a narrow trail in a cocoon of shade cut into a steep slope through a grove of redwoods. It’s still and cave- quiet, and I feel attuned to the life around me.

There’s a faint tap on my hiking cap, followed by the sound of something rustling below me.

I touch the bill of my cap and stop. My sunglasses are gone. I peer downhill into a shadowy pile of redwood needles and leaves.

There. A glint of black.

I cautiously climb down the slope. Squatting, I reach down and grab the glasses.

“I saw them flying off your head!” calls my wife Kathy, who is following me down the path. Between us I see the offending branch that swatted the glasses off my head.

I hold the glasses up to show her and then do a double-take. The frames look unfamiliar.

“These aren’t mine,” I say.

“They must be,” she replies. “I saw them fly off your head.”

I look more closely at the tortoise shell frames. Mine are black. “Maybe I grabbed one of your extra pairs?” I say.

“Nope,” she replies. “Those aren’t mine either. You must have taken someone else’s when we left the house.”

Something feels off. I’m fairly certain I left the house with my glasses, not someone else’s. Then again, I am prone to spells of absent-mindedness.

I tuck the glasses into my shirt pocket and start probing the slope with my hiking stick.

“What are you doing?” Kathy says.

“Looking for my glasses.”

“Two people losing their sunglasses in the exact same spot in the middle of a forest?” she says. “Not possible. I think I’ll just wait for you at the end of the trail!”

And she turns to go down the hill as I continue my search.

I once feared what I didn’t know. I believed that the impossible was a fact of life. Then, several years ago, not far from the trailhead of my journey as a coach, one of my teachers shared what he did when he ran out of ideas for helping a client.

“I rest in the comfort of the unknown,” he replied. “Until an answer comes.”

His words electrified me, and threw me into a state of panic as well. They had a ring of truth of something beyond my experience. They also scared the crap out of me. Finding comfort in the unknown!

There’s a paradoxical tale about the holy fool Nasrudin, which illustrates the different worlds of possibilities and how to explore each.

One evening, two men find Nasrudin kneeling in a side-street near his home. ‘Nasrudin,” they say, “what are you doing?”

“Looking for my keys,” he replies.

They too get down on their knees and join the search. After a while, one of them asks, “Nasrudin, where did you lose your keys?”

He points up the street “Near my house.”

“Why are you looking here?” the man asks in astonishment.

Nasrudin answers, “Because the light is better here.”

This story explains why, back on the hillside where I lost my glasses, I am now poking the thick blanket of needles and leaves with my hiking stick.

I take a breath and look around again. With fresh eyes I scan the slope, skeptical but still curious.

I work my way along the trail, poking and peering. I’m about to step back onto the path when I bend down for a last peek under a low-lying scrub.

“I found them!!” I yell, waving my glasses in the air.

Kathy comes back up the hill and stops in front of me. Staring in disbelief, she laughs and says,

“That’s impossible!”

In the ongoing reinvention of my life over the last seven years, I have learned that nothing is actually impossible – and that at the center of not knowing is a creative intelligence far greater than my little piece of human intellect.

The seemingly dark and barren land of the unknown is a place where surprise and delight grow like grass, once we stop being afraid of it.

Now, not knowing excites me. Strange as it may sound, I love those times when I run out of answers for a particular question or problem, and I turn towards the comfort of the unknown. I may not find what I’m looking for, but I do know I won’t find the impossible.

The unknown is alive with life. Sometimes I wonder if it is life.