Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?
– Larry Gopnik, A Serious Man
A Serious Man is one of The Coens’ true masterpieces, an engrossing modern-day retelling of the Bible’s Job, and a profound meditation on faith, doubt, suffering and choice. In an attempt to understand his many perceived misfortunes, Larry visits a succession of rabbis to press them on the meaning of life. After one particularly entertaining but fruitless encounter, he is told that God does not owe him answers. Larry laments: Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers? (The beautifully pithy response: He hasn’t told me.)
It strikes me that our lives are greatly informed by how much we feel the questions we have. We all ask ourselves what we’re doing with our lives, who we should be with, where the meaning lies. For some people, these questions are answered with enough certainty to cause the questions to fade. For others, the questions themselves are peripheral or held comfortably at bay by everyday life. And then there are those for whom the questions are a tangible, central part of existence, one that ekes away at contentment or coalesces as a driver for change.
A lot of people in this last group are prone to travelling, and a great many backpackers that I’ve met in the last year have had a contemplative, questioning nature (or maybe that’s just the sort of person I attract). Travel purports to offer answers that cannot be found elsewhere, luring restless souls in with its promise of inspiration. Yet we travel in the shadow of a great paradox: aiming to leave ourselves behind and find ourselves simultaneously.
A Serious Man conjectures a powerful, liberating truth: the answers simply don’t exist. We won’t find them at home, but nor will we find them on the road. Some of us will always have questions, not so much because of what the questions are, but because of who we are. Travel is not about finding answers, but about coming to terms with this simple truth: some questions will always remain. We falter when we try to wield travel as people often wield religion, as an inexpert tool for total resolution. What travel provides instead is perspective – and a road to acceptance.
Once we accept that we will always be restless and that we will always have doubts, we can stop looking for complete solutions. For some of us, a hole is part of who we are. If we can embrace this, then we can stop trying to fill it in, and use it to store things instead. A hole is a wonderful repository for curiosity and open-mindedness. In uncertainty and ignorance, we find balance and nuance and grace. We learn to let go of judgement, to moderate, to wallow gleefully in the complexity of life.
This hole is a remarkable thing. For those who feel it, I implore you not to fear it. Accept it, embrace it, and be emboldened: live a whole life anyway.