When I was eight, the first book I read after Charlotte’s Web was Tell Me Why:Answers to Hundreds of Questions Children Ask by Arkady Leokum. Titillating questions like, “Can grasshoppers hear? How much blood is in our body? What is the speed of thought?” fascinated me, more so than did the answers.
Still, I loved knowing the answers. (Understanding things – yes. But also being right.) In fact, having THE answer became a survival mechanism in childhood. And like most survival mechanisms, devolved beyond its usefulness well into my adulthood.
Suffice it to say that I’ve come to realize that the magic IS the question. There is a bit of hope that lives inside a real question. It is said that the most powerful questions are those that can’t be answered. The poet and writer, Rainer Maria Rilke, captures this point well when he writes,
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.
These are the most intriquing but also the most challenging types of questions to stay with. One such question that I’ve had for decades (or rather, it’s had me!) is how to be a complete human being? That is, what does it mean to think and act humanely, when it’s easy but also, when it’s most difficult. This question has given me much in terms of insight, patience, and courage, in exchange for resisting the urge to settle on a definite answer. You know the type, the kind you can put in a box with a bow on it. But have you, like me, discovered that some questions are more valuable, unanswered and lived instead?