There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love. - Bernard of Clairvaux
One of the things that I remember growing up is spending Sunday afternoons visiting relatives. My adoptive father was part of a large family, and although they were not spring chickens, a number of those family members were still alive and functioning, mostly as farmers. We would visit Aunt Edie and Uncle Olin which I loved because they had a huge front yard to run around in and lots of big, thick, catalogs to thumb through and drool over.
After Uncle Olin died, Aunt Edie continued to work the farm. She hired a man to take care of the crops, but she made her own butter, jams and preserves, and canned vegetables she grew in her truck garden. She took care of herself, and never missed a Sunday at Beech Grove Baptist, the church she had attended as a child and in whose graveyard Uncle Olin and so many other family members were buried.
One day I noticed that she had expanded her book shelf with textbooks of various types. Now, as much as I disliked homework, there was something interesting about her textbooks. During our visits I would read some of her texts and we would talk about them. Aunt Edie had left school before graduating to marry Uncle Olin, and now, in her mid-60s or so, she decided she needed to finish by taking correspondence courses. It took a long time, but she made it. Then she began more correspondence courses to become someone who could help look after homebound and chronically ill people in her community.
Looking at quotes by Bernard of Clairvaux, whose commemoration is today, I ran across the one about seeking knowledge and Aunt Edie immediately came to mind. It took a lot of courage and perseverance for her to spend those years studying. She even took geometry, a course I was always too afraid to take, and passed with flying colors even though she hated the class. The farm wife of so many years learned what she needed to know to be certified to fill what she saw as a need and, I think, found fulfillment in the process.
Bernard's three kinds of knowledge-seeking rather sums up why people like Aunt Edie and millions of other people continue learning. Those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge are most likely those who want to know more and more about something that fascinates them and about which they are passionate. I may be presumptuous, but someone like Stephen Hawking appears to me to be of this first type. What is beyond what we can see now? How does it work? What effect does this have on us and the universes around us? It has brought him fame and worldwide acclaim for continuing to expand our own thinking and ability to travel toward these new concepts while himself being confined to a wheelchair, an artificial voice, and the exquisite workings of his own mind.
There are some people who seek knowledge in order to gain recognition for being the best in the world in their particular subject. Granted, curiosity played its part in their search for knowledge, but even someone who is a world-renowned specialist in even the tiniest realm of knowledge probably takes pride in that accolade. They revel in being called by an academic or professional title; it is a form of vanity. It may serve a purpose for the person wearing the title, but does not necessarily do the same for anyone else.
Then there are those who seek knowledge in order to serve. They don't have to be world-renowned renowned experts at any one particular thing or even the best at their job in whatever subject or occupation they choose to pursue. These people have dreams that drive them to serve others in any of them hundred thousand different ways. Nurses and doctors, priests and deacons, professors and kindergarten teachers even the guy with best auto fix-it shop in town serve people who are in need through their knowledge and skill and a lot of dedication.
I can see Aunt Edie in that third category, sitting at the dining room table with her book, pencil, and paper, working to learn how to be not just a helping hand but a person with skill and knowledge to help someone else have a better life. I'm sure she'd be surprised that I think of her that way, because I'm sure she never saw herself in that light.
That image is driving me to take up a profession that will, hopefully, make my life better through assisting medical professionals make their patients lives better. I will never be the best in the world, nor will I ever be able to know everything there is to know about the subject, but that's okay. I will study hard in order to do the best that I can for those I serve, even in the humblest of ways.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 20, 2016