With one big gust, the storm shook the living room window right out of its frame and it came crashing down on my boyfriend’s head. Blood. Glass. Our lights blinked. On the TV, the newscaster reporting on the hurricane yelled, “Five minutes ago, nothing! Now I am standing in half a foot of water!” Her image froze and she crackled off the air. “Looks like we lost her,” another newscaster said. Wrapping my boyfriend’s hand in a rag, cutting a box full of books open to cover the window with cardboard, sweeping and vacuuming glass as quick as I could before the lights cut out, I thought to myself: “This is not really a great way to start my birthday.”
Every year on my birthday I select a theme for the upcoming year (2010 was Say ‘Yes’; 2011 was Love), but this year, the storm seemed to be doing it for me. “Give me a metaphor, quick,” I whispered to my boyfriend later that night, as we sat on the couch under stacks of blankets listening to the wind. “A metaphor that bodes better for the upcoming year than the obvious one.” Neither of us could think of anything good enough to overpower our sinking feeling.
I feel incredibly blessed to have been relatively untouched by the hurricane while so many faced horrors. And in its wake, I see that it wasn’t the storm outside that bothered me, but the one inside of me. Let me explain.
Growing up in the evangelical church, I struggled with my religion’s premise that there was an answer to every question. In fact, one of the main reasons that I left the church was because I was so certain that very little was in fact certain. And today I often tell people that every time we think we have an answer to one of life’s biggest questions it is nothing more than an indication that we need to ask more and better questions.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still want answers. I totally want them! They are deliciously comforting, answers, even when they are discomforting, and quite frankly, I miss having them.
So I pick up heads up pennies for good luck, and turn over tails up ones for the next guy. So I catch and wish on fluff (literally, fluffy white seeds that float through the city) and I count white horses because when I was a kid Mom told me that when I see 100 of them, I’ll get a wish. I write strategic plans for my life; I make and meet monthly goals; I manage daily to-do lists. And yes, I make metaphors, little things to make things feel just a little bit more manageable. As though all this can give me a glimpse into the future, an answer to that terrifying question: What’s next?
I’m on the constant lookout for answers. Prophesies of a kind, promises that things will be okay, or even that they won’t, just so long as I know and can prepare myself accordingly.
This year, I’ve decided that my theme will be cutting that out already. That I will focus on simply showing up, answering God’s call each day, and trusting that the rest will unfold in its own time, quieting the storm inside. In the famous words of my all-time favorite poet, Rilke:
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart…. Try to love the questions themselves…. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given 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 answers.