reminder to self

I love looking back on old pieces of my writing. Writing preserves a self. It’s interesting to see how I have or have not changed… They say wisdom comes with age, but sometimes it is our younger selves that remind us of that wisdom. I am learning to accept circumstances that are not mine to change, to not fear the unknown or uncontrollable, but walk head-on into that, for it is the only way to move forward.

University of Chicago
Extended Essay

Essay Option 1. “At present you need to live the question.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Joan M. Burnham.
Inspired by Sarah Marikar, a third-year in the College.

As I sit down to write, my heart is filled with many questions, my life with much uncertainty, and a great sense of the unknown: I know not where I will be at this time next year – where I will study, what I will study, what I will be doing with my life, or whether I will even still have life. I have heard it said that life itself is one big question. Still, this unknown is not overwhelming, but, literally, great, for it is precisely this fact that makes life wonderful. It is the uncertainty and the unknown that provide the scope for excitement, for fear, and for a sense of awe. Just as the thrill and wonder of a magic trick lies in the not knowing, the thrill of life lies in this same absence of knowledge – the unsolved questions and mysteries. A mystery begets wonder. A question begets mystery. Our enjoyment of life lies in our capacity for wonder, made possible by the state of not knowing, and by the existence and persistence of questions, for then it is only by living out the questions that we find the answers.

On my way home today, I passed by a white tent lined with wreaths of flowers and standing sprays with cards expressing “deepest sympathies” and similar condolences. The juxtaposition of death with life is always striking, and funerals often serve as catalysts for contemplation. I was reminded again of the fragility of life, and the unpredictability of not knowing how much time we have left on this earth before we become a part of it ourselves. It could be years, months, weeks, days…  It could be this very instant. That would be one question answered, one answer found, but one we would arrive at only by living out our lives. Were there some way to stop time, we would never arrive at that day, and hence never find the answer. We might want to hit the pause button on life until we find all the answers. However, that is illogical, because we would find ourselves trapped in a static situation. What we have with us would remain with us and not increase, for our level of knowledge cannot possibly change if we are not ourselves experiencing and undergoing change. The only way to bring ourselves closer to the discovery of these answers is to live. Live the question and the answers will come.

It’s like taking a road trip, and getting lost. To allow oneself to be preoccupied with the destination would be to miss out on the full experience of the journey taken to get there. Instead, we must make the most of every moment, and experience everything to the fullest. Sometimes we get so caught up in finding the answers to our questions that we fail to appreciate the process of discovery and of learning. As any teacher would say, learning is about understanding, rather than simply knowing. If we had all the answers to life’s questions, what life would there be left to live? On the other hand, if we were to allow ourselves to be paralyzed by these questions, we would miss out on so much that life has to offer.

Instead, we must live the questions. We must confront life head on without fearing the unknown; embrace it and revel in the sacred state of not knowing, because it is then that we have cause for wonder. It is these questions that make life worth living, for the answer to the question of life is, simply, to live.


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