Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
– Søren Kierkegaard, 1843
I don’t usually go around quoting Danish philosophers, but I think Kierkegaard was on to something. The longer version of the quote includes this thought: “Life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood.”
This creed, if taken to its logical extreme, could lead us down a dark and gloomy path. If the events of our lives only make sense in retrospect, how can we make good decisions in the moment? If we can’t make sense of the world around us, how can we figure out our own place in it? If we misunderstand ourselves all the time, isn’t it impossible for us to understand each other?
Hmm. Actually, that does seem on brand for our current era. (And, let’s face it, for any previous human era, too.)
And yet, we can choose to see this as a reassuring promise: every day is a chance to gain a bit more perspective, knowledge—even wisdom, if we’re lucky. Kierkegaard simply means that events keep moving, and, every once in a while, we might get a flash of insight that could help us choose our next step wisely (or at least make sense of past events).
This makes it sound like we’re all on a philosophical quest as we move through our time on this planet. But Kierkegaard had something to say about that, too: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Life keeps on happening, and we might as well be present and enjoy it as much as we can, whether we fully know what’s going on or not.
Although I love mystery novels, I very rarely untangle the plots on my own: I need everything spelled out at the end. But we all know there’s never a great reveal from an omniscient narrator when it comes to real life. So maybe the best advice is to remember that, no matter how old we get, we’re all pretty darn clueless. This doesn’t give us license to give up and stop seeking answers. Just because we can’t understand everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand anything.
Welcome to our mystery issue. It doesn’t contain the answers to all your questions, but we’ve assembled some intriguing stories for you to learn from and think about. And, like the card in the seat pocket in front of you on the plane, it covers some very important points.
As you move forward through your own mystifying life, keep an open mind and an open heart. And ask kind, but pointed, questions of yourself and of others. We’re not going to figure it all out, but at least we can keep trying.