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Everything Half Known

“In the soul of man,” Herman Melville wrote, in one of his terrifying flights of prophecy in Moby-Dick, “there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.” Cast off from that protected world, he’d gone on, and “thou canst never return!” But the half known life is where so many of our possibilities lie. In the realm of worldly affairs it can be a tragedy that so many of us in our global neighborhood choose to see other places through screens, reducing fellow humans to two dimensions. On a deeper level, however, it’s everything half known, from love to faith to wonder and terror, that determines the course of our lives. Melville’s sorrow lay not just in his restless inquiries, but in his hope for answers in a world that seems always to simmer in a state of answerlessness.” — Pico Iyer, The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise

Pico Iyer pulls a reader to places they likely hadn’t considered going to in their own lives. He travels to corners of the world I’d never choose to go to myself, taunts me with eloquence I strive for in my own writing, and expands my mind with thoughts I haven’t arrived at yet in my own journey. He takes very seriously the mission of the great writer to change the reader in ways they weren’t quite ready for when they began the book. And he does so with a sprinkling of wonder in lyrical observations we’ve come to expect from him.

The question is, what are we looking for? What are our possibilities lying in a half known life? What encompasses our soul awaiting answers? We each must reconcile these questions in our lives, wherever our journey takes us. Our lives are not about that which we are sure about, but the larger questions that surround us. The thing about finding answers is that they always lead to more questions still. Thus, our lives, lived with purpose, are a finite inquiry.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms or 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 then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Over time, many of us come to terms with the things we’ll never fully understand. Life isn’t about finding all the answers, merely a journey towards enough in our time. Each question and subsequent answer is another step towards becoming. Becoming what, we might ask? And that is our half known, different for each of us, yet very much the same.

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