I don’t know nothin’.
Eight years ago today, my father-in-law Marv passed away—so today, more than usual, I am thinking of him and missing our kitchen table conversations. We would talk about politics and religion, the economy and education, and the best brands of Cabernet for the cheapest prices. After sharing his wisdom, attempting to solve world problems, and philosophizing over a glass of wine, Marv would throw up his hands in disbelief and exclaim, “What do I know? I don’t know nothin’.”
He had thoughts, opinions and plenty of experience, but, self-admittedly, he felt he still didn’t know much. Marv said it often enough that it was the opening line in the eulogy my husband gave for his dad’s funeral. This phrase, “I don’t know nothin’” holds so much meaning, far beyond a simple or flippant segue into another subject, rather I believe he was saying “I have ideas, but I will stay open to other possibilities.”
I’m sure there was a time or two when he knew exactly how things should be, but they didn’t turn out the way he expected, as so often happens. Perhaps he meant—I surrender needing to know. Perhaps he meant—I don’t know it all. I don’t know the big picture. I don’t have all the answers. I thought I knew a lot, but now, I wonder if I know much at all. I am humbled by what I do not know.
I’m not sure if Marv meant all those things when he said “I don’t know nothin’,” but it does show that he left room for not knowing, for mystery. He knew he wasn’t in charge of all things true… and he admitted it many, many times. Marvin’s expression of humility is the bedrock of being Benedictine. According to St. Benedict, “Divine Scripture calls to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’” (RB 7:1) Marv was willing to share his wisdom, but he also knew he didn’t know everything. We could stand a little more of Marv’s humility in this country.
My husband, Joe, also shared this about his father: “My dad was one of the most caring men I knew… Even with seven kids in a small house…he opened our home up to pregnant teenage girls at a time when it was not socially acceptable to do so. He didn’t care what other people thought.
He helped Vietnamese refugees acclimate themselves to American culture. He would take them around and show them how things are done in the United States. He would spend his time volunteering in prison ministries.
He was always concerned about those less fortunate than him. I think his main concern is whether people in this world would get enough to eat. There isn’t one kid, grandchild or even a friend or two that he hasn’t helped or offered to help at one time and he never expected anything in return…He truly had a passion for helping others, a giving heart… When we were kids, it didn’t matter what friend we brought home, my dad would say “there is room for one more at the table, come and join us…welcome!”
St. Benedict instructed his monks, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35)” (RB 53:1) Marv, although he didn’t call it that, was being Benedictine. He lived and breathed hospitality.
Marv was almost 80 years old when he died, but age doesn’t really matter when we are on a journey to knowing (and unknowing) ourselves. Marv was a humble man who gave of himself in so many ways. If this is what knowing nothin’ is like, sign me up. We could all stand to be a bit more like Marvin.
Joe closed the eulogy for his dad with this beautiful image—“Now that he is in Heaven with Pappy, Grandma Alice, Grandpa Ambrose, Grandmother Margaret, brothers Gerald and Don, sister Doris and all those who went before him….they are all seated at the Father’s table and they are saying, “Marvin, there is room for one more at the Father’s table, come and join us….welcome home!”
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Joe’s mother was also a compassionate, cheerful giver. Read more about Mary Gehr here. In honor of their generosity and hospitality, we dedicated a park bench at the front doors of St. Benedict Center, an ecumenical retreat center with a mission of hospitality, to Marvin and Mary Gehr.