Striving to come up with answers to certain questions can lead one down an unsettling path to distraction. What time is it? What days it is? What month is it? – these type of questions I can generally manage. But questions around what another person is thinking, what has motivated them to do something, say something, act a certain way – trying to find an accurate answer to the basis of human behaviour, and you’re almost certainly on a hiding to nothing. Affairs of the heart, questions around why life has unfolded a certain way, and that age-old question of ‘why me?’ when we feel we have been dealt a really bum hand at life’s card table are some of the questions you might eventually have to let go of, unanswered. Certainly, ponder all you want, though eventually, if you can manage it, such unanswered questions are best left out with the recycling: let them be taken away and forget about finding answers; as the American country singer Irish DeMent sang, ‘let the mystery be.’ For answers are rarely presented in neat, typewritten formats, like a school maths exam paper. The old song by Johnny Nash says it fairly simply: “There are more questions than answers / Pictures in my mind I will not show / There are more questions than answers / And the more I find out the less I know.”
As children we are inquisitive, we ask never-ending questions and mostly (as long as the questions are straightforward) we’re given answers. Being told, “I don’t know”, doesn’t cut it when you are a child, yet, as I’ve got older, I seem to be allowing myself to say, “I don’t know” a lot more. W.H. Auden, in a light-hearted, conversational poem takes a look at love, asks himself what it’s all about, and concludes that there is no one formula, no stock answer, no neat recipe for love.
‘Oh tell Me The Truth About Love’, by W.H. Auden (excerpt)
‘When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.’
I believe the only way we can let go of the big questions that creep up on us in the quiet moments, is (contradictory as it may sound) to have more quiet moments. Often, we are taken up with the immediate questions to which we need answers in order to get us through everyday life: diary dates; appointments; exams; what’s for dinner, the wheres; the whens; the hows. But maybe our fixation on these smaller questions is a means of burying the bigger questions about the meaning, purpose and value of life and (like Auden was asking) love. Whilst I do fear that an over-emphasis on questions of a more philosophical nature can, as I said earlier, lead you to distraction, now and again we must allow ourselves some time of quiet reflection to take stock and deliberate. A word of warning though, over thinking the big questions might well turn you a little Larkin-esque, and you know what that brings?
‘Days’, Philip Larkin
‘What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.’