Countless times in the last few months I find myself saying the same thing to friends and strangers alike. “Can you imagine telling our year-ago selves that this is who we’ve become?” There is almost always the hint of a wistful smile, which I see reflected in their eyes since most of the time we’re both wearing masks.
“No,” they say, shaking their heads. “I cannot.”
This has been a most indescribable year. There is no need to recount the specifics – the ones we know collectively and the ones we know intimately … the ones that have shaken us to our bones.
We have learned new things about ourselves and our neighbors. Sometimes we’ve raged against learning it. And sometimes we’ve held it up to the light and asked, “What IS this thing?”
I have written here about living in a liminal space – that in-between place where we find ourselves waiting without a script or inkling as to how to proceed. It’s an uncomfortable place. We can be quick to say, “Just get this year OVER with already!”
But wait … listen. This liminal space is filled with questions: What are you learning? What will you do with what you are learning?
And how, as a result, do you plan to live differently?
They’re not easy questions to answer and the truth can be unsettling. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
Most everyone I know is left with more questions than answers these days, and I would suggest that living the questions is the exact place to start.
I know there are those who are not comfortable with living the questions. The answers, they say, can be found in religion, in faith, and in ancient holy texts.
With all due respect, I suggest poetry is also a place to turn to better frame our questions, state them in new ways, and wonder about them. We can start with Rainer Maria Rilke who begs us “to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now 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 then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As we do this, perhaps we need to spend some time alone, thinking. Perhaps it’s time to turn off Netflix and the gaming systems, to leave our sourdough starter on the kitchen counter, and spend some time quietly reflecting in the glow of twinkling lights. Or perhaps we need to bundle up and head into the barren woods to listen to whatever questions might be whispered by the trees.
Without exception, we all require healing from this arduous liminal space, this refining fire of a year. As we proceed carefully forward, let us resolve to love, to seek understanding and justice for the stranger, and to extend grace to ourselves and one another. Our year-ago selves are different now. We are changed.
Here, take my hand. We can be changed together.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.