Hanging above my wife’s home-office desk is a framed saying that reads, “Live the question — Rilke.”
Once upon a time, it hung in her office at the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, where she spent her days hearing stories about life and death and the big questions. The quote, from “Letters To A Young Poet,” comes from the German poet, mystic, and philosopher Rainer Marie Rilke (1875–1926), who, in 1906, wrote several impassioned letters to a mentee who stood at the crossroads between artistic solitude and a soul-sucking profession that beckoned.
“I beg you,” wrote Rilke, “to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and 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 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 ever noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Rilke’s words have been something of a daily meditation for me ever since a friend sent it to me several years ago. I pass it along today to you, but especially to the family and friends of Luke Bucklin, who, along with three of his young sons, was killed in an Oct. 25 plane crash in the mountains of Wyoming. The kids went to the same schools as our kids, Burroughs and Anthony, and I know for a fact that we’re not the only ones who have learned lessons from Ginger Bucklin’s loss of a husband and half her family.
To wit: My family has been very polite with me lately, thanking me for doing various chores around the house; driving them places, delivering food, whatever — all of which my gut has recently, loudly, reminded me is a privilege. Especially these days, considering all the things Ginger Bucklin does not get to do.
She does not get to talk with her son about girls and grades on the way to the orthodontist-slash-coffee shop, or enjoy the rote ritual of hello-goodbye hugs and kisses. She does not get to rescue a school lunch and bring it to the office just before the noon bell, or check for lice on her young men’s heads. She does not get to argue the merits of The Current over K102, or collapse at the end of a long day and laugh in 10-part harmony to “Modern Family.”
She does not get to engage in philosophical wars over happy hormones and epically failed chores, or pore over the wedding pictures, homework, history project. She does not, without a certain amount of haunted prayer, get to sit in the car pool lane with the radio on, watching the cinemascope windshield vista of fresh faces blasting through the schoolhouse doors to the soundtrack of late greats Joe Strummer (“the future is unwritten”) and Warren Zevon (“enjoy every sandwich”) and living legends Mason Jennings (“be here now”) and the Avett Brothers (“I and love and you”).
She does not get to tool through the streets of her beloved South Minneapolis and comment to the peanut gallery in the back seat on the construction progress of the old Patina or the new menu at Jack’s. She does not get to linger by the jungle gym, absent-mindedly watching the boards go up as the baseball diamonds convert into hockey rinks. She does not get to care-freely motor through the Dairy Queen drive-through after surviving parent-teacher conferences.
She does not get to text her husband, “Hey how bout a quick walk around the lake before dinner?” She does not get to regale her charges with how, since she was their age, raccoons and possums have been coming up from the creek at night to take over the city. She does not get to stroll through the Rose Gardens, pausing to take in the dying flora, the newly barren bird’s nests, the laughing fountain gargoyles, and the sundial that reminds her to “Count Only The Sunny Days.”
Or maybe she does. Maybe Ginger Bucklin is ahead of the curve on all this; I read an interview with her that said her nightmare has been managed via her faith in the Lord. So maybe the lesson that she and Rilke teaches us is that if you live long enough you will see terrible things happen to good people, and that the only way to go is to turn up the volume on your count-your-blessings-lucky-to-be-alive-live-the-question mix and just keep swimming.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.