I’m watching Yentl for the first time, in which Barbra Streisand dresses as a man in order to attend school and study sacred texts. She falls in love with Mandy Patinkin and arguably wrestles with her gender and sexuality, all the while just trying to find the freedom to learn. If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty much as fabulous as it sounds. All she wants is to devote her life to the pursuit of wisdom, to asking the biggest, deepest, most essential questions of life, and to be surrounded by others who want to ask them too.
I know the feeling.
I’m fascinated by all forms of spirituality, and exploring them is my favourite occupation. But sometimes I shy away from asking the big questions, or offering my opinion, because what can I add to those conversations?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
What is the purpose of life?
What is the nature of divinity?
What can we do about all the terrible things in the world?
Since I can’t answer them, often I tell myself I shouldn’t even bother asking.
Who do you think you are? my ego roars.
I am a human being, and as such, it is my birthright to ask these questions.
But you don’t know anything, you have no experience, no triumph, no loss. Not compared to many.
I have a soul, I’m a piece of the universe, and I have the right to answer these questions based on my insight and life situation.
You’re too young, too stupid, too lazy.
The only thing I don’t have the right to do is insist the answers I come up with are true for everyone.
In the past, that’s what has held me back from really letting myself examine life fully. I can’t possibly come up with answers that are wide enough for everyone to sail across the river on.
So what? Neither can anyone else.
Sure there’s been a handful of thinkers, spiritual leaders and philosophers throughout history who came up with answers big enough that many people saw themselves in it. Jesus of Nazareth, Siddartha Gautama, Muhammad, Lao-tzu, Confucius, there are some who spoke about the way they found to truth and understanding, and were able to bring back instructions that helped others. But even then, the whole world was never able to agree on one single road map. The biggest ships there are still aren’t the right fit for everyone.
Even with the assistance of an experienced guide like the ones above, in many respects we still have to hammer together our own little rafts and take on the choppy waves alone. We will probably discover many leaks and shoddy workmanship along the way, and – if luck is on our side – be able to repair it. But we never claimed it was perfect, just good enough to set out on our journey.
I’ll never know the truth of the universe, how can I possibly when I’m inside it? But maybe in many years’ time, I’ll know some truths about my own tiny speck of the universe. And that is how I choose to view these questions now, just attempts to puzzle out my piece of existence. Meanwhile the rest of the world is puzzling out their own pieces. Think of the technicolour patchwork we’re creating every moment, sewn of peoples’ thoughts, emotions, the way the world looks through their eyes. All those rafts and boats and ships, a mighty fleet sailing side by side out toward the horizon.
I’ve spent too long gazing from the shoreline,
all the voices around me whisper,
“You’re no shipbuilder.”
I weep into my hands,
until the light hits them, clear and smiling:
“Then why did God give me these?”
P.S. I now have an Etsy store up and running, in an attempt to raise a bit of money for The Humane League, and express my creativity at the same time. Check it out if you’re interested. Thank you very much 🙂