If we can be sure of one thing, it is that we're living in the Age of Uncertainty.
Our economic outlook seems cloudy as we hear our politicians talk about debt, taxes, and cliffs. Our national security seems suspect as we attempt to unravel ten years of war against an amorphous, unseen, unbeatable opponent. Our mental health seems precarious as we deal with the latest shocks to our safety and preconceptions. Our shared values seem most days to be merely a shared willingness to shout at each other on social media.
When I was in high school I remember asking my mother about the Sixties and early Seventies. I was trying to understand the time period around my birth. Was it as interesting as it looked in the books? "It was hard," she said. "It was troubling."
I can't help but thinking that, whether we like it or not, we are in the same kind of period. Perhaps in ten or twenty years we will look back with nostalgia about the better world that was borne from all of this tumult. But right now it just feels troubling.
I was thinking of all of this yesterday in Mass. Yes, I went to church on a Monday morning -- I can't say I wanted to. I went for the funeral of a friend. Someone killed far too young. So many questions. Too many, actually -- too many to even contemplate.
As the words of the Catholic Mass washed over me I was reminded of a line in Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. A young man had written the great Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke asking for advice on how to make sense of the world. And we learn that Rilke is just as confused as the rest of us. He writes:
Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like 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 answer.
Why do children die? Why must we torture each other? Why haven't we learned to practice tolerance? How can we value the contribution of each person without forcing our ways upon one another? How can we create a community that applauds achievement and still encourages kindness? How can we build a country that aspires to its best qualities rather than reducing to its worst?
These are very difficult questions to live. But this is our role. This is our time. I pray we will live our way to the answers so that our children and grandchildren no longer have these questions to bear.