“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”
-George Bernard Shaw
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.” -Rumi
In my classes, I notice I ask a lot of “What do you think of that?” questions, a lot of “Do you think that’s right?” questions. And those are good questions. Huxley wants us to ask them while we’re reading Brave New World, and Atwood wants us to ask them in The Handmaid’s Tale. We are making a world. What will we make? We are living a life. How will we live it? Sometimes these questions are hard: we make so much that is harmful, so much that is hurtful. (I find myself asking, “What pushes us to be cruel, and thoughtless, and apathetic? What could lead us toward something else?”). Some of these questions are gentle. There is so much that we’ve never imagined, so much that we’ve never tried: look, there are rivers here, and open meadows, and oceans rocking us to sleep. Where shall we go?
At the same time, these are all questions, aren’t they? Questions with sides, with arguments. Perhaps we could try to leave questions behind. What if we said, “Yes, sorrow,” and “Yes, joy,” and “Yes, the winter snows”? What if we didn’t need to say anything at all? I am sorry that you hurt: I want to help you. But isn’t there also something worthwhile in just sitting here, in holding you, and being held, and being held by all this?
I think there must be a balance. Today, in my class, we talked about the difference between what we “want to want” and what we “want.” I want french fries; I want to want healthier foods. I might want to want to be an athlete, because all of my family plays baseball, but I don’t want to play baseball. A student asked, “What happens when the two levels contradict each other?” I don’t know. Then there’s tension. I think you can settle it either way. You can try to pull your wants inline with your want-to-wants: you can try to train your desire. I want the last cookie, but I want to want to share, and I’ll practice that. That’s like Shaw, and we’re shaping a different world–perhaps a better world. I can also trust my wants, instead; maybe this desire in me, that I thought was wrong, that I wanted to get rid of, is only misunderstood. Maybe it has something to share. The danger of insisting on my wants, perhaps, is that I could end up an unthinking servant to my desires. Perhaps the danger of insisting on my want-to-wants is that my idealized “self” encourages self-loathing, and might cut me off from the beauty of what’s really here.
Maybe Rumi is calling us one step further. Look: a night sky, a suburban street. A wall that’s a squall of electrons. My ankle that, even if it’s sprained, is wondrous and complex. Why “go”? Why not wander? Why not sit? Forget the wanting, or the wants toward wanting. Remember the field. It’s a metaphor, yes; but what if it’s also a place, grass and sky, where time eddies and flows like water? What if it’s someplace we can walk to?
“I’ll meet you there.”