“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 now 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.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
I remember reading Rilke’s prose about questions for the first time when I was a university student. I vividly recall feeling the wisdom wash over me but still experiencing the habitual magnetism pulling me toward knowing the ANSWER and getting it right. This week, more than twenty years after I first read Rilke’s words, I finally understood them completely.
As we approached the public elementary school the kids are attending in Forte Dei Marmi, Italy, I panicked. It was their first day of school and I was drowning in unanswered questions. The answers were literally written in a “very foreign tongue.” These were not philosophical questions they were basic orientation questions:
- Do the kids need uniforms or special clothes or shoes for P.E?
- Where do we drop them off?
- Where do we pick them up?
- What supplies do they need?
- Are they fed at school?
- Where is the bathroom?
- Where? What? When? How?
The kids were excited and nervous and had many of the same questions. It was hard not to turn the car around, and fly back to our safe nest until we had it all figured out and could communicate fluently. It was a pivotal moment. Do we jump in with both feet and “live the questions” or do we give into the fear of the unknown. I was holding my breath as Rilke’s words were washing over me in some distant corner of my mind when my son Henry said, “We can just watch what other people do for a while and see how things work.” So we did . . .
- We sat in the car and watched where the kids lined up
- The kids waited in the hallway and followed other kids to classrooms, to the bathroom, to the lunchroom, to the coatroom.
- Ron and I waited in the car to see where people picked up their children and then we followed.
- The kids watched to see what supplies were needed and what systems were in place they needed to adhere to for attendance sheets and homework records.
- After failed attempts at “google” translate” for notices coming home, we started using the Italian we had along with sign language and laughter.
After a week, we have a much better idea of where, when, what, and how but we also know the WHY. We are on this journey to put ourselves on the verge of what is comfortable and feel the creaking and bending and cracking of old fears and we break into new frontiers, one quiet observation at a time. We find ourselves leaning into the power of observation as we relinquish old patterns of command and control. It is painful at times to feel so alive in each moment but it is also addicting. It is amazing how many answers our children lived their way into this week, simply by having the courage to step through the open door.