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TAoN No. 140: And why it's okay if they're never answered. Plus a new Missing Word, and more.
My father died recently, and not surprisingly that’s put me in a reflective mood. His passing was not unexpected: He was almost 96 and had been in declining health for a while, especially so since my mother died a little over a year ago. As much as I miss him, I recognize that he was ready.
Still, his actual death was inevitably jarring, and left me thinking, among other things, about all the questions about his life that I wish I had answers to.
The obvious thing to say here is:
Think about the questions you have for loved ones in your life, that you might regret not having asked. Ask them now. And make time to listen to the answers.
And I endorse that!
But … often … it’s just not that easy. I asked my father loads of questions, particularly after my mother passed. Among other problems, his memory was failing, and I could tell that sometimes, even when he wanted to answer me, he couldn’t. He clearly found that frustrating. (Just as clearly, I didn’t want to be a source of frustration.)
Maybe that just underscores one elment of the directive above: Ask your questions now. Memory can be fragile.
I endorse that, too. But … again … it’s maybe too simple. The truth is there were questions I asked over the years that just resulted in rote or vague responses. Stuff he didn’t want to talk about? Stuff he figured could wait? I don’t know! Maybe the lesson there is to ask and ask again later and ask more after that.
Also, though, it makes me want to shift the focus to the other side of this conversation:
If you are on the receiving end of the kind of inquiry I’m describing, answer. Maybe you’re not getting quite the questions you want, but maybe you never will. This whole thing about fragile memory, time running out, the unpredictability of the future? It works both ways. Work with what questions you’re given, while you can.
This recognizes the complexity of what’s really going on here: It’s the opposite of simple and easy. Yes, it’s worth the effort. But I think it’s also inevitable that at least some of the time even the best efforts will fall short, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, or best intentions. We’re merely humans, after all.
There are questions that will never be answered. Ask anyway, and the sooner the better. But accept that you might not get what you (think you) want.
My parents gave me a great deal. I don’t need any more answers to know I love them both. That, really, is more than enough.
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Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.
This week’s missing word is from me.
It’s really hot outside — the heat index over 100 again. Sunlight is brutal. But inside, the AC plugs away and it’s quite cool. Suddenly it starts to rain. But the sun is still out. You open the front door, not all the way, just a foot or so. The outdoor heat, the indoor cool, the smell of rain hitting hot pavement, all commingle in this space you’ve just created. If you step forward or backward you’re in a clearly defined atmospheric state. But if you stand still in this unnamed in-between, you feel it all, at once … until you close the door.
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
IN OTHER NEWS
“Tell me about one of your favorite places that you’ve visited, and list at least one piece information from each of the five senses that you can recall from being there.” The Walkist.
I just randomly read Joy Williams’ book Ninety-Nine Stories of God from a few years ago, and I really dug it. I don’t really know Williams’ work but this collection of mini-stories (some just a few sentences) struck me as pleasingly Kafka-esque. I had forgotten how much I love the mini-story form. I particularly recommend No. 35 and No. 91.
Encounters with Columbia U’s homeless neighbor, by Camilo Vergara.
I really like David Shrigley’s work.
Maybe you already know this, but:
Go to google
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Tap it repeatedly
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults directed at me, not at anyone else, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments.
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And thanks for reading …
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail!
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