Live the Questions

Two things have been in my head all weekend: Devotion, and the line “funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while” (from Crazy Heart – a wonderful movie).  I’m still reflecting on Dani Shapiro’s luminous, beautiful memoir, and will write a longer review.  But for now, I am thinking of how the book and the movie are about the process of asking questions, the process of an adult continuing to grow.  And of how in both cases the person asking ends up with at least as many questions as he or she started out with.

At Dani’s reading in Boston, people kept asking her what the answer was.  I felt like over and over she called on raised hands to a version of the same question: “you had all these questions.  What did you find for an answer?  What do you tell your son now?”  And Dani was frank when she responded that there wasn’t a single answer.  The thing she said that stuck with me was that even at the outset of her search, she was less interested in an answer than in living deeply in the questions for a while.  I was struck by the audience’s persistent desire for a single answer, for resolution, for the closure that Dani posits so humorously and wisely may not actually exist.

Crazy Heart is likewise ambiguous, and ambitious, in its denial of a simple conclusion.  Of course there is the beautiful rendering of a woman’s redemptive love, but then there is the end, which is undeniably complicated.  A man’s life saved, returned to him.  But oh, at what cost!  As he watches the dust of one of his closely-held dreams fall through his fingers, he sees the big questions that remain in his palms.  The ending, though happy, is laced with loss and echoes with the lack of resolution.

I needed to hear both of these messages right now.  I’ve written before about my profound discomfort with uncertainty, but  I am starting to believe that living through the unknown is the only way to truth.  It is actually much more difficult for me to sit with the ambiguous and unknown, to peer over the edge of the precipice into the future and not know what it holds.  I have, many times, grabbed at the nearest firm answer, regardless of whether it was the right one.  I’m determined not to do that now. 

It is harder for me to live with maybe than to jump to yes or no, but I must.  I need to give myself permission to sit and feel this discomfort.  I need to remember that both falling and flying involve a loss of control, the thing I fear most, and they may be indistinguishable for a while.  And to remember that beyond the questions there are just more questions.  Paul Farmer’s voice comes to my head: beyond mountains there are mountains.  Certainty has been my crutch for far too long.  Off into the murky gray yonder.

(thanks to Ronna for the thought-provoking – dare I say renegade! – conversation)


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12 Comments

  1. Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Oh, how true this is! The unknown is SO much more uncomfortable to sit with than the known. I’ll create answers, in fact, to avoid the unknown, make decisions when there are none to be made because living in the expansiveness of possibilities can be so terrifying. Thank you for your honesty in sharing about this, and for revealing your courage in embracing a different tactic. It is an inspiring reminder.

  2. Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “[L]iving through the unknown is the only way to truth”: what a powerful but painful statement. Thank you for planting this seed in my mind today.

    I cannot wait to read Devotion, and your forthcoming review of it.

  3. Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lindsay,

    I haven’t read Devotion but I too was struck by that line from the song in the movie Crazy Heart. It’s not the easiest thing to do, living the questions. Though more and more, I’m becoming OK with not having answers, mostly out of necessity, I guess.

    I feel an instant connection with anyone who quotes Paul Farmer. I had the privilege of meeting him last year and after having read Kidder’s book about him and a couple of the books Farmer himself wrote, I strongly feel that there is no good reason why anyone would be denied health care anywhere in the world.

  4. Posted February 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    As someone who avoids ambiguity, someone who fears it, this post resonated with me.

    Gotta see that movie. Have heard such great things.

  5. Posted February 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    From this post alone, I will buy that book and see that movie. There is something magical about maybe. Something glorious about gray. Revel in the impossibility of the unknown, even if it is scary at times. Cheers to living the questions, dancing around answers that might not exist, to falling, and flying. Alone. And together.

  6. Posted February 8, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing about answers is that once we know them, they change.

  7. Posted February 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    My privilege and honor to have conversation(s) with you, Lindsey. And it continues: this post is a beautiful articulation of and invitation into what ambivalence is all about, why it must be maintained, what it offers. Indeed, mountains beyond mountains. I’m climbing them with you! And grateful.

  8. Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I love your commitment to your journey – to really allowing the discomfort and the questions instead of just giving them lip service. I love that you were able to sit back and notice what other people were looking for in their questions to Dani. I love that there’s another book to add to my mountainous pile. Lots of love here…:)

  9. Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    so there i was, stuck. snowed-in. but i had internet, and when i read your post about dani shapiro’s book, devotion, i committed a first: i ordered an ebook. as for living the questions, it can take some getting used to (and, actually, you never really do) (at least i haven’t), but living in the questions can make for a most interesting life. i have a cousin who’s a bishop in the episcopal church, and he says the questions are his favorite part.

  10. Posted February 9, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Come jump into the uncertainty pool! The water is not too cold but is jarring at first. Not having the answers is a given as we go through life. I struggle with this constantly but know that the questions are, in most cases, as important, if not more, than the answers.

  11. Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Reading through your beautiful, supportive words I feel very much understood, Lindsey. It is so much about living inside the questions — and when you write a book about these matters, many people do thing (or hope!) that you have answers. But there are no answers. Only–as Thomas Merton put it–the darkness. And the darkness is enough. I so appreciate your response to Devotion.

  12. Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Beyond mountains there are mountains. That is huge.

    Rilke had it right in saying to live through the questions until some distant day we find the answers {if they exist}.

    PS: You mentioned post partum in a previous post. Did you have PPD? And could you point me to some of your posts about it?

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