Monthly Archives: November 2015

“We Live Life Forward and Understand it Backward”

The title is a quote of Sue Monk Kidd, which I heard on National Public Radio last week.  I had to pull off the road and write it down.

When 2015 was a new year,   I read an article by Parker Palmer titled “Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold”  and I’ve been reflecting on those questions ever since.   He recently posted another article that opened with this passage from “Letters from a Young Poet” by Rainier Maria Rilke:

 “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, 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 find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.”

I have carried a small question in my heart for more than 50 years.   On a fall night that long ago,   I stood alone outside my grandparents’ home in California; my eyes on the night sky.   The rest of the family  had  gone inside.   Did I  hang back and not go in,  or had I come back out?  Family life was hectic then —  five young children and two tired parents.   I was under the radar a lot,  getting a reputation for responsibility, so I knew I had some latitude to explore the world around me.  There were few moments of quiet and I had found one.

The moon was huge, just over the horizon, and colored a deep orange;  shaped in an ovoid way,  like a football.  I searched my nine years of experience to make sense of this.  How could it be?  I knew the waxing and waning shapes of the moon, and this was not one of them.  Nor was this the color.moon

Eventually,  I went inside.   I don’t remember even thinking about asking an adult.  Besides, when we went out an hour or so later to go home,  the moon was back to its usual shape and color.   How was I to say then, “it was huge and orange and shaped like a football.  How can the moon do that?”

Memory is peculiar.   Why does that night, that moment, that moon, that particular unanswered question,  remain with me after all these years?  There is no other person I know who carries the same experience of the same night. To college and back.  From California to Nebraska.  From childhood to what Mary  Catherine Bateson calls “Adulthood II, the state of active wisdom”.

In the closing days  of September this year,  Tim and I stood on the sidewalk under our hundred year old maple tree,  peering through its branches for a view of the moon.   We were  looking for the rare eclipse of a supermoon;  huge in the sky because it is closest to the earth in its rotation; reddish because that is the  reflected light of the  earth during a total eclipse; sometimes called the Blood Moon.  And weirdly shaped as the shadow crosses.    And I know now that this is what I was seeing on that still night near San Francisco Bay so many years ago.    I read that there had been a  total lunar  eclipse in 1964.  I’m pretty sure what I witnessed that night occurred  a few years earlier,  possibly not a total eclipse. But now I know what I was seeing.

So in the place where that small question was held,  I now feel another small thing:  satisfaction; completion.   One more thing I don’t not know.

Mary Catherine Bateson says that  “Composing a further life involves thinking about the entire process of composing a life and the way in which early experience connects to later.  It involves looking with new eyes at what has been lived so far and making choices that show the whole process in a new light, and that offer a sense of completion and fulfillment…”

This sets me on a course; living  the questions.  I no longer feel like I am searching with urgency for answers; but rather hoping I am paying attention when they slide into place with that satisfying “Oh, of course.  Now it all makes sense”.

Advertisements