I’ve always adored this one particular quote:
Imagination is more powerful than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
As a child, I was constantly losing myself in imaginary worlds and, in my not so humble 10 year old opinion, anyone who valued imagination over knowledge had to be pretty smart.
(I also used it as an excuse to justify reading more books.)
Later on as I studied more of Einstein’s work (for fun – I was strange that way) and worked teaching science workshops to kids of all ages, I came to a whole new appreciation of the depth of meaning in those few simple sentences. I came to understand that it isn’t enough to merely want to know an answer, and that there often isn’t only one right answer, and that the greatest thinkers are not those who know the most; they are those who are the most curious about things and who dare to imagine the way things could possibly be while the rest of us focus on the the way we think they actually are.
Twelve or so years ago, when I was first making the rounds of specialist after specialist, trying to find the one true answer to my health issues that would allow the doctors to give me a pill or perform a surgery and make it all go away, my GP at the time tossed out an offhand comment that made me pause. He said, quite casually, that medicine was as much art as science. That we didn’t know nearly as much as we thought we did about how the human body works, and that some things were still an awe-inspiring mystery.
In that instant, I realized that he was a man with a powerful imagination.
Now that I’ve been living with chronic pain and other issues for over a decade, I have come to understand that Einstein’s words on imagination and knowledge apply just as much to me. Every day, I come face to face with the knowledge that it will be a day full of pain and stiffness, unquenchable fatigue, and the everpresent pins and needles dancing under my skin. Without a strong imagination, I would be subsumed by it. I would cease to be me, becoming instead a walking list of symptoms with drugs instead of blood running through my veins.
I choose instead to imagine a different life for myself and then do everything in my power to make it happen. Sure, I can no longer get down on the floor and play with my kids. I can’t go for bike rides, or long hikes on hilly terrain, or even just chase them down the street, my feet pounding the ground with long, fast, ground-eating strides. Some days, I can’t focus on a thought for very long, and if I do focus, I am just as likely to get it wrong. Some days, my hands are so stiff and cold that I can’t hold cutlery without suffering and my handwriting is unreadable even by me. Some days, I sleep, unable to do much more. Some days, it hurts to breathe.
But all of that is not who I am. It is simply the reality of the body I live in.
I choose instead to imagine a woman who is strong and capable and creative. Who may not be able to run, or even walk very fast, but who can type like the wind. Who may not be able to garden for hours, but who can manage 15 minutes a time or two a day. Who may not be able to rough and tumble with her kids, but who can encourage her kids to do so without her and who can cheer really loudly from a chair on the porch.
My life is still limited physically, but I refuse to live in a place where the knowledge of my limitations… limits me. Instead, I choose to work around the limitations. For that, I don’t need knowledge; I need a powerful imagination. And when my imagination fails and I am sucked down by the knowledge of my reality?
Then I read a book and get lost in the power of someone else’s imagination while mine rests and recuperates.
We do like books around here.