“The Answer to the Great Question […] Is […] Forty-two.”
“…that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” -Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
Hitchhiker’s is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and it’s got a secret: the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. (If you keep reading the series, you also get the secret to flying). Problem is, the answer turns out to be 42. When two super-intelligent (though perhaps not very wise) creatures finally get their answer from Deep Thought, the computer their people designed to solve the question, they’re worried about being lynched. “Forty-two” isn’t the most reassuring teaching to offer masses who think they’re about to be enlightened.
Whenever I get a new puzzle (and I like puzzles), I want to solve it. I want to figure out how it works. But if I figure out how it works while just trying to figure out how it works, then I get bored with it pretty quickly. The more interesting part is the interplay in the music of its pieces: how this mirrors that, and spins around, encircling, setting free. I start trying to figure it out without looking, like someone wandering through a room in the dark. “Locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language…” In some matters we can look for answers, and we can find them, but before there were answers there were questions. “Summer day” doesn’t get an answer. Neither does “you and me.” They weren’t made of the stuff that needs answers, just like courage isn’t made out of carbon and a turtle isn’t made out of nihilism.
Rilke and Adams might not agree. Rilke says there really are answers, and we get closer to them by focusing on living. Adams seems to find the whole idea of an answer rather ridiculous. He might not be serious enough to disagree. As I read them, though, they do have something in common. They both feel like joy. The answer (or the way toward it) is hanky-panky and hootenanny; choice and rejoice; nonsense and incense, which (before you get all incensed, because it’s not logical) has the upside of smelling good.
The answer is 42. It’s a grand answer: an answer with mountains and thunderstorms, differential equations and violins. We get to pose the question. We get to live into our answers. We get these books written in a language we don’t understand, with letters that spell mysteries and cast spells. So hootenanny and hoedown, and learn to fly.