with equal parts compassion & hilarity

Living the question

I started and stopped a few different blog posts for this week because none of them felt exactly right. If you’re an “F” (a Feeler) on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, you know what I talking about when I say that I don’t make a decision unless I feel good about it.

We’ve all been exposed to a lot of words and articles and news stories and graphs and conversations and questions lately. Maybe you’ve made the conscious decision to shut off the news and instead simply focus on the small but impactful ways you can be a helper. Maybe you’re feeling grief. Maybe you’re worried about your growing family and trying not to let your mind go too far into the “What If” zone. 

And, I don’t have any good answers or suggestions or actions to offer you because it’s my first pandemic too. I don’t even have funny words to offer you.

But, I will tell you that this morning I listened to a podcast on beauty that made my eyes unexpectedly well up with tears. I opened the windows, baked dark chocolate almond oatmeal bars, heated up my lunch, and peeled an orange. I did not look at Instagram or read my emails or answer phone calls. I focused on the task before my hands, the task of my hands, and let my body rise and fall to the unfolding conversation between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue. It was wholly peaceful. 

I was reminded afterward of other beautiful words I’ve read before. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke said—

“You are so young, all still lies ahead of you, and I should like to ask you, as best I can, dear Sir, to be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future.” 

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Upon rereading those words, I felt comforted to come before you today and not offer any answers at all. Rather, I am armed with Rilke’s words, “And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now.” 

First, I think he means to say that we must be alive now, feeling and tasting and hearing all that is around us. We hold both the good and the hard; the beautiful and the ugly. And then, holding it all, we can live the questions.

Well, how do you do that? I don’t really know, but I am asking myself:

  • What questions am I asking?
  • What is the feeling behind that question? 
  • How can I face that question and that feeling?
  • Am I okay with not knowing the answer?
  • What would it look like for me to be okay with not knowing the answer right now or today or next week?
  • What changes?
  • What doesn’t change?
  • Who am I? 
  • How does that change?

I’ve read a few different articles where people have made the point that in a pandemic your idea of time and timeline must change; it must shrink. Instead of thinking months and weeks into the future, these great thinkers suggest shrinking our timelines so that we’re thinking just mere minutes into the future. 

I need only to “live the questions for now”. 

In these next mere minutes, I’m simply living the question. Maybe, as Rilke suggests, the answers will gradually reveal themselves, but I also don’t know that I’m living the questions solely to get answers. I wonder if the figuring and wrestling and trying are good enough in and of themselves?

I think they might be. Almost always, but especially now, as the birds are singing in the shining sun and I’ve been asked to stand at least 6ft. away from my friends.


Photo of Lake Alpsee in Germany courtesy of Kate, but I was standing right next to her so it practically could have been me taking the picture. It was Kate though.

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