“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
By now we have all seen and read about the senseless shootings in the Orlando club, Pulse. And on either side of this horrific tragedy, the death of a young singer and a small boy.
I have considered randomness for years now. Is there someone in charge? Are we alone? And if someone is in charge, why suffering, loss, devastation? Elie Wiesel asks this question better than anyone. I don't pretend to have answers. I'm surprised that I am still asking the questions . . .
Are you still asking the hard questions? If you are a poet, I certainly hope you are.
In a discussion with a poet earlier today, we came around to the why of writing. My original impetus was the result of asking questions, both personal and universal. I had moved from Mormonism to Orthodoxy and then out into the ambiguity of the unknown . . . for most people probably an unnerving route, but for me it felt natural.
There is no shame in leaving something that no longer fits our learned beliefs, but there is a void that must be filled. For me, poetry filled that void.
Even in seeming randomness, I ascribed meaning with my words. Poetry became about the not knowing, the open-endedness of life. The ambiguity we all fear.
We cannot come to the blank page or the unmade necklace, the untried relationship or the new job with an already-determined belief. If we do, we don't stand a chance of growing within the new situation. If we ride in, defenses down, with our full-on vulnerability present, it is scary as hell, but it is also life-giving.
Writers work with metaphor and meaning; we can give a storyline to anything that moves. . . and now we must pull back and listen. Stop talking. Stop writing. And listen. When our collective pain is too much, no one person is able to offer the succinct advice that would lessen our loss. What we are listening for is not the answer, but the question.
I fell asleep fitfully last night, images of that small boy and then of Jo Cox from the UK, who at 41 was brutally murdered on the street. Her life, like the 49 people in Pulse, taken by the hands of a ridiculous fate tied to guns and a madman.
Today, in my humble garden, I cut back roses and pulled up California poppies in anticipation of three weeks on the road. I imagined returning to the land time forgot. Last year our neighbor actually paced the sidewalk in front of our house, looking on with abject relief when he saw we had finally returned to chop down the urban jungle that was our yard. This morning, for one glorious moment, I contained the weeds. I mowed and watered and looked at my small plot of land that for a few days before the invasives take over, looked tranquil. The poppies thinned out, traditional and heirloom tomatoes finally in the ground, and the strawberries planted for next season.
This is what keeps me going when life seems futile and hope is a dry bone stuck in my throat. The concept of a tomorrow, of planting something that will grow in another season, that will fill out and offer its fruit, but not yet. I hate the waiting, I always have. But today, it was anticipation I felt as I looked at the paltry strawberry plants. Next year, and the year after . . .
I won't give in to the futility of lost hope, because there is that bit of anticipation still within. No one can take that from me, no one can convince me that randomness equals meaninglessness. I can live with the randomness, and if God is out there, I can live with that, too. I can't comprehend either fully, but I can accept both possibilities.
The big questions, the ones that keep us up at night, are usually unanswerable, at least on this plain. But I can't help myself. And you, I hope you can't stop yourself from asking the why and how and what ifs. Because if we ever stop believing in the questions, we will be lost to ourselves and to each other. And that is an answer I can't accept.