I Don't Know.


"We don't realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace." —Elizabeth Gilbe


When my daughter Megan was 13 months old, we took her to visit her grandpa and two uncles—Andrew and Matthew—in Columbia, South Carolina. Shortly after we arrived at my father-in-law's home, there was a knock at the door. With Megan sound asleep in her car seat in the hall, I answered. There in front of me stood a police officer, a woman who appeared to be a minister, and two other people I did not know.

The next few minutes remain a blur, but I distinctly remember my father-in-law, Lou, who had just lost his wife to pancreatic cancer a year earlier, crying out, "Why? Why is this happening?" His son —my brother-in-law Andrew— had drowned, caught in the undertow of the Saluda River at the age of 19. It was the day before Father's Day.

The officer asked my husband Pete to accompany him to identify Andrew's body. After that, we did the things you do to plan a funeral. When the service was over, we sat together in alternating moments of numbness and despair. Why in the world did we lose Pete's mom and brother in a single year?


Today, I often talk with people who feel stuck in needing to understand why something awful has happened or is happening. It is as if their peace and ability to "let go" or relax is dependent on the answers to unanswerable questions.

Why were six million Jews and five million prisoners-of-war allowed to be killed during the Holocaust? Why are human beings indiscriminately brutalized, lynched, or otherwise tortured simply because of the color of their skin? Why, today, are perfectly kind and wonderful young people targeted and made to feel broken simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation? Why?

I don't know.

There are a million different experts who hypothesize a million different reasons for these things. But in truth, how do any of us really know why horrific things happen?

We are human beings living in a very human world. Since the dawn of time, there have been atrocities, injustices, and horrific, heart-shattering events. There have always been people who, because of what looks real and true in their minds, do unimaginable things to other people.

And in the same moments as these atrocities, there have always been stories of exquisite kindness and compassion; stories of heroes brave enough to stand up for what is right at the risk of losing their reputation or life. In the midst of hatred, fear, and grief, Love has always been there, holding it all.

As I have grown more interested in what we all are beyond our bodies, minds, and psychology, I have seen the absolute wisdom and freedom in these three words: I don't know.

I don't know why human beings do things to hurt other human beings. I don't know why babies get leukemia diagnoses or why fathers die before they get to walk their daughters down the aisle.

I don't know.

But I do know this. Maybe we aren't meant to know some things right now (or ever). And the not-knowing has nothing to do with our ability to be completely at peace.

Believe it or not, the not-knowing is never the thing standing in the way of our peace.

The only thing temporarily veiling our true peace in any moment is the belief in a story. The story, "I need to know why things happen" is one of our mind's favorite and most compelling narratives.

When it looks like our intellect is the thing that has gotten us this far in life, we tend to listen to it. So, we go to work figuring things out.

But, when we have a sense of the momentum of Life that is always there—moving us forward, carrying us reliably from moment to moment—we rest in the not-knowing. We rest in the present moment, which is all we really ever have.

From a place of rest, we find ourselves naturally drawn to do the things that make sense in real-time (rather than in our imagined future). We donate money, help a friend, show up for the cancer treatment, join a peaceful protest, or lead a military combat mission. We bake a cake or plant a garden so that our joy can radiate out into a world desperate for more lightheartedness.

Our minds will never give up the search for answers to the unanswerable questions.

But, beyond our intellect, there is a space in which nothing needs to makes sense and, paradoxically, where everything does make sense.

Thankfully, our true peace and our ability to show up in the world have nothing to do with our mind's stories and demands.

Even in the unimaginable, we are immersed in the infinite peace and wellbeing of Life.