The Peace of Unknowing

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Photo by Susan Fischbach Isaacs

    Part of the joy that lingers in my soul after visiting Glacier Bay National Park on the coast of Alaska is the fact that there were 2000 of us—just on the same ship as I—who stopped our lives, our conversations, everything to watch a giant block of ice. We left our jobs, our families, our homes, and the lunch buffet on the lido deck to stand huddled in the layers we dutifully packed. And we gaped expectantly.

    Personally, I was—and remain—in awe of the awe. Cynicism reigns in most of my world—in my 20-something son, in many of my friends, in anyone who follows any kind of news, especially, it seems, in us creative types who produce in our minds the world as any sane person would prefer to live in it.

    But here, watching ice, we are all supremely satisfied with the world as it is. We cannot will or conjure in some way that while we are there to see it the glacier will calve, sloughing off a piece of its aged face into the waiting bay. Low thunder rumbles in a way so convincing that at first we look to the blue sky, only to realize that it’s the ice; and the ice is not doing nothing. The thunder continues and we wait, murmuring to one another out of the sides of our mouths, not wanting to risk looking away from the ice to face the person we’re speaking to. The glacier could calve at any second—or in the seconds after we leave. We don’t know. So, in an unheard-of willingness to cede control we continue our watch.

    In the meantime, we observe to one another the jagged, turret-like spires high in the center of the glacier and the muddy veins in the actually blue wall of ice that could probably tell the right scientist where the glacier originated and for how long it’s been there. We can only admire the patterns. Mesmerizing. But created of nature? Mathematical. But how? We don’t know that either, but we’re okay with not knowing.

    Recently, I have been practicing being okay with whatever is here and now. My current struggle is being with folks who aren’t okay with life in this moment. Those people—they—they can take me out of the blissful present, and they don’t even fathom their fault. But, those people–they–those bliss-sucking irritants—they are not on a ship parked in front of a glacier on this day. We—we are all in. Cold and damp? Definitely. It’s part of the experience. Hopeful to see the glacier calve? Of course. But squared up with a wall of ice a mile wide, we are faced with the fact that it would do what it would do in its time. And we, what could we do, we knew, but to grant it that time.

    So, we wait. Together. Two thousand of us. Mostly silent, a little chilly, and filled with the peace of unknowing.