When I was in college and trying to figure out a major, I came across this beautiful quote by poet Rainer Maria Rilke that I pasted on my wall:
“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 written in a very foreign tongue. Do not 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 find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.”
My relationship with questions is a complicated one. On one hand, unanswered questions are uncomfortable – they mean uncertainty. Where will I live long-term? What is my big, consuming passion? I don’t know, and I wish I did. I am a planner, and I can’t plan for the unknown.
On the other hand, I delight in questions. My job as a journalist is to ask them, day after day, and I enjoy the process of formulating the right queries to bring out interesting responses. Possibly my favorite thing in the world to do is to sit at a cafe with a friend and talk about questions – abstract questions, meaningful questions, serious questions – but always with the goal of coming to an answer, or at least learning something in the process.
But as Rilke says, perhaps I should learn to “live the questions now.” A life without unanswered questions is as arrogant as it is boring. And maybe in the questions, we can find some knowledge – knowledge about who we are. After all, the questions that consume us must say something about us.
Here are some of the questions I live with daily:
- Will I accomplish what I want to accomplish?
- How do I worry less and enjoy the present more?
- Should I be doing more?
I don’t have all the answers. But what I do have are the questions – and maybe that’s enough for now. It’s certainly better than having no questions at all.
What questions does your brain keep coming back to?