The Unknown. It feels so often, especially at certain times in our life, as if it is all around us. Sometimes the Unknown is all we know. It is everything. Nothing is known. Everything that could be known is a fog, a darkness, a shadow. And we are floating in it. Looking for some firm ground to place our foot. Some limb to hold on to. It doesn’t even have to be much, but something. Something to hold onto is better than nothing.
Remember moments in your life, maybe when you were younger, when you would get the wind knocked out of you? Gasping for breath, you wondered if the next breath would come and nothing you experienced before could prepare you for that moment. You were absolutely present in a terrifying limbo of unknown.
How do we live in a life, or even in moments, of absolute unknowing?!? What do we hold on to? What do you hold on to? Some have objects that help them remember times that felt safer. Some pray with all their might, to God, to the universe, to their ancestors who have weathered these storms before them… sometimes there is an answer and sometimes there is nothing. Some breathe, remembering that for everything that is unknown, we at least have this moment, breathing in… and breathing out. We fight for that breath, don’t we? As Reiner Maria Rilke writes,
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
David Whyte writes:
To keep despair alive we have to abstract and immobilize our bodies, our faculties of hearing, touch and smell, and keep the surrounding springtime of the world at a distance. Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away… (from ‘DESPAIR’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words)
We face the unknown daily, deeply, and painfully. Each of us have things that give us reason to fight for that next breath. Feeling the unknown, wrestling with it, sometimes even being defeated by it, we find ourselves stronger and we find the way through.