…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s the first of January. Amid the wave of facebook posts about picking up excercise, eating right this year and carpe-ing that diem, I read the news of the New Year’s Eve celebration turned stampede in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, that claimed the life of 60 odd souls (the prepoderence of which were children between the ages of 8-15) and left far many more wounded.
“My heart in hiding, stirred…” except not in wonderment of the magical nature of being as Hopkins meant this line. Rather I feel myself trudging towards the forest of existential angst in which I wandered early in 2012. Still, I express my facebook condences as is customary, after all, this makes us (me) feel better, no? I proceed to make my New Year’s Day breakfast, a full English feast of decadence and cholestrol– living on the edge for a day, I call it.
Facebook draws me in again. This time I read a status: “RIP, RJ”. Death has no reverence for our claims of “this is MY year”? This cannot be. Forget the forest. I am now drowning in contemplative quicksand and it takes every iota of my being to quell a nose dive into nihilism, and to quench that thirst for answers.
RJ was not someone I knew particularly well. In fact, my only memory of him at this point is that when he first joined us at Christ the King School– when I was probably in the fourth grade or so– he played his guitar in a talent show, singing Bob Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind. Yet, his death has driven such a dagger into me. Perhaps it is because I clicked on his profile and saw that he’d wished everyone a happy new year and asserted, with what read like jovial vigour, that he was going to be taking down photos to make room for “this coming year”. That his life was cut short on this very day (even knowing that the 1st really means nothing and is merely a gregorian coincidence); that his family have to start their year as such, that the bereaved and injured of Abidjan too should be so unfortunate leaves a bilious taste in my mouth.
It was much the same dyspepsia or the spirit I had felt last year in ruminating over our Sysphean existence on this earth. What is the point of this toiling? And why could I not penetrate this questioning? Why was I so suddenly so overcome with this particular brand of ontological torture? I had (have) long harboured a desire to know everything, a dysfucntion life’s experiences and my Yoga practice are teaching me to temper:
I should know everything that’s happening at this moment, at every point on the earth. I should be able to penertrate the thoughts of my contemporaries and of people who lived a few generations ago, and two thousand and eight thousand years ago. I should. So what? – Czelaw Milozv
I thus thought it quite serendiptious that I stumbled upon the book, Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, being sold for a song, thanks to the iminent demise of Border’s. Having never met an alliteration I didn’t like and since the book promised the use of philosphy and humour to “explore life, death, the afterlife and everything in between”, I purchased it for prompt consumption. I did not realise that my being consumed with these thoughts and words for the better part of a week was tantamount to the the sort of “solipsistic confinement” (that I learnt from the book) philosopher, Ernst Becker, who was influenced by the great Dane, Soren Kierkegaard, terms an “immortality system”- a way in which we conciously or subconciously counter our anxiety of death.
I learnt a great deal from this book including philosophers names that have already been lost to the oblivion of memory (or lack thereof), words I am still not sure how to pronounce and that Kierkegaard speaks very deeply to me. His solution to the incessant downpour that is that anxiety of mortality? “Let angst be your umbrella!” It is only through embracing our angst and awareness of the answered questions impending non-existence that we can find transcedance and what Kierkegaard calls “the leap of faith”. After all, “non-being is the necessary gorund for the figure of being to make itself known to us”.
Life often makes as much sense to me as Kierkegaard and a kangaroo walking into a bar: it seems a grand setup for a punchline for which I am still waiting. If I am to embrace angst , I must, by extrapolation, grow comfortable (paradox though it may be) with the questions for which I can find no ready answers. Indeed, I suppose, it is these mysteries of the heart, these locked rooms and books written in indicipherable tongues that remind us that we are alive. My preoccupation should not be with finding that answer to why we push the proverbial rock up the cliff to have it roll down so we can push uphill again but rather I should live the asking, as Rilke would have it. Let us relish in life for all of its uncertainty and find meaning in all that makes up our existence today, knowing that our being will be, invariably, extinguished. Life is the questions. So, let us “try to love the questions themselves”, recognizing the divine light within us and “sun in [our] belly”! As for the answer, “it’s blowing in the wind”.
To the family of RJ and of those who perished and we injured today in Abidjan: Que dieu vous donne la force et le courage…