We can't always get what we want. No. Is this because life is complicated? Yes. Because the world is sometimes unfair? Yes. Because the human condition necessarily entails a mismatch between desire and its fulfillment? Yes. Because the more we have, the more we want? Yes. Because once we have something, we want something else? Yes.
But I have a new thought. New not because it is utterly original, or novel in any paradigmatic way. New because it's new to me. I think we can't always get what we want because we do not know what it is we want. How can we have something if we don't even know what that something is?
A big thank you to Mama of The Elmo Wallpaper for her post yesterday entitled What do you want? She starts her post with three questions: "Do you ever have these moments where you just stop and think, What the hell am I doing? Do you ever stop and wonder, How the hell did I get here? Do you ever think about just chucking it all and starting over?" As I read these questions and the balance of her thoughtful post, I nodded. Because I do have those moments, I do ask those questions, I do sometimes have those thoughts.
We all do.
Mama tells the story of learning that her dentist had moved with his family to Italy because he had always loved Italy. She muses about how learning of this fact made her look inward, and at the life she currently leads, the settled and "ordinary" existence of kids and cats and cars in the suburbs. She wonders what it would be like to tread less "safe" paths, to lead the life she once imagined she would live. But she is the first to admit that she's not sure what exactly she imagined. Other than it was something other, different than her current world. She concludes her post with an honest question, an existentially treacherous question, a beautiful question: what do I want?
And because I loved this post and loved being reminded of this question, this simple and stark and bottomless question, I wrote a comment. And I expressed how I too am plagued by this question, by that vexing domain of desire that often cannot be dissected or diagrammed. And then I said something that came to me swiftly and softly, shrouding me like a spontaneous flurry of snowflakes. I said: "I think that as long as we keep allowing ourselves to ask these deeply important existential questions about who we are and where we've come from and where we're going, things will work out okay. We are really in trouble, I think, when these questions stop echoing in our heads and hearts."
Because I think this is true. In a world that seems to prize answers and instant gratification, I think we need to take a step back and locate the questions, the important questions that should never stop resonating in the walls of our worlds, however predictable or insular. I think we should never stop wanting. I think we should never stop asking what it is that we want. I think we should realize, however, that we can't always get what we want. Because "what we want" is chimerical, always changing depending on who we are at the moment and how the world shifts about us. Because even if we are happy, genuinely happy in an authentic, if elusive, way, we are wired to want, to reach beyond the periphery of our own bliss.
In the wake of recent and numbing sadness in my own life, I have realized something. Something big. I am (gasp) happy. Not Hallmark happy. But happy in an exquisitely imperfect, work-in-progress, kind of way. My days are good days, days stuffed with words and questions and smiles and tears and kisses and dreams. I want this. This is what I want.
BUT. I do sometimes take those proverbial steps back and look at my life through that more objective lens and marvel at the periodic ordinariness, at once delicious and devastating. At the intermittent predictability, both magical and mocking. And, yes, there are times when I say: what do I want? And when I ask this question, I feel temporarily paralyzed. But then I feel that telltale cathartic release because this is an important, invigorating, question and merely asking it is good for me. In my humble or elitist opinion (take your pick), I believe, and strongly, that this is one question that everyone, happy or sad, lost or found, should ask. Even though the answer might forever flee us.
There are things we will never be able to grasp. Things like snowflakes and rolling stones and desires. Not because these things don't exist. But because they are constantly melting and eluding and morphing. Because they are constantly whetting spiritual appetites, and stirring our existential wonder, and shaping dreams and doubts. Because they are constantly making us reach, and stumble, and ask. But we should not ignore these things because they escape us, because they evade our grasp.
Wherever we are, online or off, home or abroad or in some thicket of emotional wilderness, whomever we are, whomever we're with, we must never stop asking.
What do you want?