There are certain questions we hold back from asking each other. I'm not talking about questions regarding embarrassing secrets or prurient pursuits, but rather questions that invite us to share with each other what makes us feel deeply connected to life.
In Colum McCann's remarkable novel TransAtlantic, Lottie wonders about how her grandson, Tomas, experiences the world. She realizes a powerful paradox: "the future demands what should have been asked in the past...":
There are times— months later, years later, a decade later even— that it strikes Lottie how very odd it is to be abandoned by language, how the future demands what should have been asked in the past, how words can escape us with such ease, and we are left, then, only with the pursuit. She will spend so much of her time wondering why she did not sit down with Tomas and inquire what exactly it was that brought him out the road in the morning, what guided him along the shore, what strange compulsion led him towards the hunt? What was it like, to walk down by the lakeside and crouch in the grass and wait for the birds and the dogs to disturb the blue and the gray? What words went between him and Ambrose, what silence? What sounds did he hear across the water? Which of the dogs hunkered next to him, waiting? How was it that he had changed his mind so simply? She wished, then, that she had carved open whatever idea had crossed his mind in the early hours that one September morning. Was it just one of those random things, slipshod, unasked for, another element in the grand disorder of things? Perhaps he did not want to see his grandfather stepping out alone. Or he overheard his mother talking of the hunt. Or maybe how his stepfather wanted so badly for him to join. Or perhaps it was just pure boredom.
She would find herself wondering— stuck at a traffic light on the Malone Road, or in the butcher shop on the Ormeau Road, or in the peace group on the Andersonstown Road, or in the shadows of Sandy Row, or at the marches where they carried pictures of their loved ones, or the days she found herself outside Stormont awaiting any news of decency, or strolling the rim of the island, or at the back court of the tennis club in Stranmillis, or simply just walking down the stairs with Ambrose, adding day to day, hour to hour— what it was that brought Tomas to the moment, how it became part of the constant unfolding, what was it that changed his mind.
She never asked. Instead, she watched Tomas lift the towel— scuffing it through his hair— and she returned, then, to the kitchen, lit the flame under the stove, the whole of a happiness moving over her (Kindle Locations 3286-3302).What if we did ask those questions that the future will demand? I think we'd risk feeling vulnerable, even slightly offended at times, but we'd gain greater intimacy, empathy, and understanding. That's ultimately what makes us feel vital and alive.