The following facts stopped me in my tracks this past week: according to the poet Evan S. Connell Tokelau Islanders have nine separate words to describe the ripeness of a coconut. This is bizarre and exotic to me. But more relative to my situation as a resident of the upper northern hemisphere is the fact that Eskimos, according to Connell, have twenty words to express the condition of snow.
Despite all this, the poet admits to everyone who has ears to hear: “I have not one word to express my longing”.
Earlier today, I walked over a patch of grass near my apartment for the first time in months. As I did so, I saw light flickering across my pant leg, rippling and flowing on the fabric in an inquisitive manner.
I looked up and saw a snow shovel lying on the lawn just a few feet away. The handle was rusted and the blade cracked; it must’ve been buried beneath snow for most of the winter. A remnant of melted snow rested in the curved blade of the shovel. The sunlight shining off the water was reflecting towards me; I had stepped directly into its path.
And still, I have not one word to express my longing.
Some mornings I take the time to read my Bible over breakfast, sitting down with a bowl of cereal next to me on the kitchen table. I begin reading but soon find that I am no longer looking at the page. I am standing across the room, leaning against the window, staring out into the forest beyond. The Bible sits on the table behind me as though the mere act of opening its cover has driven me to this point: the point where I stand, hand in pockets, looking out into the world that is beyond.
For I have found the source of the light shining across my leg. But with this discovery comes the inevitable and haunting follow-up: where did that water come from? Where was it before? What is the source of the source?
And, above all other questions, why must I know?
Many, like Connell, have gone before me. I read their books and soak up their words. I follow the echo of the voices down corridors of culture, twisting my way through the maze of perceptions and biases I have acquired. Finally, at long last, I come upon their sullen shapes, sitting at a dead end.
What are you doing here? I ask.
Looking, they reply, and it lead me here.
Where is here? What is here?
And they look back at me, straight into my mind’s eye as I stand staring out of my apartment’s window. That is the question, is it not? What is the name for this longing, the beginning and the ending of all my existence, pining and desperation?
There was a man who lived next door to my family in the first home I can remember as a child. The summer we moved in, he began constructing a brick pathway leading from his garage out front to a deck behind his house. He stopped working on it after a few days, leaving a stack of bricks sat next to the unfinished pathway.
I know nor remember nothing of the man save for the following information: he started building a pathway with bricks and for years afterwards whenever we drove by the task remained unfinished, the bricks stacked neatly along its side.
“I’m feeling happy and sad at the same time,” author and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky writes, “and I just want to know that that’s okay.” I want to know too. I have to know because I feel it all the time. I feel warm and cold at the same time, standing by my open window in sunlight of a young spring. I feel it with a Bible open behind me staring out a window into a world of unfinished pathways and melting snow. The thoughts racing through my head are confusing and marvelous, unsettling and reassuring. All at the same time.
Of course: “The point is,” Rainier Rilke reminds me, “to live everything. Live the questions now.”
And so my life is a journey paved with questions; I cannot place my foot upon the ground without us crossing paths, without them dancing across my existence.
And though I don’t know much, I know that I cannot stop. I cannot leave this stack of bricks on the outskirts of my life and pretend like they’re not there. I’m not sure why, but this I know: I cannot stop the laying the bricks.
And so I continue paving, like countless that have gone before me. I take another step toward the Unknown as reflected light dances across my leg and I continue paving a pathway of questions towards the longing I cannot name.