The Unanswered Question - by Darlene Nelson
I was born in a home for unwed mothers and adopted two weeks later. My adoptive parents were older and, as such, I grew up surrounded by elderly relatives. I spent years being told to be quiet and to help out, even if that was to go outside and play. I was told that “silence is golden” and “to be seen and not heard.”
Witnessing scenes in nursing homes, our actual home, and the family cemetery was as familiar to me as a playground. Because of these circumstances, I never had any blinders on as to my own fate. The fact that my time on this Earth is limited is as known to me as the fact that the sun will rise each morning. I did not, however, realize that these circumstances would put me on a life-long quest for inner peace and wholeness.
Youth left me with my head spinning, a penchant for nostalgia, and a million unanswered questions. From a young age, I began to question everything. On top of that, having become a quiet observer, I noticed almost everything. Occasionally I would venture a question aloud to an adult, only to receive cursory answers or none at all. That only deepened my questions. I did not understand people’s reluctance to talk to me and at times, in retrospect, it felt like avoidance.
It also left me with nowhere to turn for life answers. The years went on and my questioning mind never ceased. When I was twenty-one years old, I sought out, and found, my biological parents. I had spent my youth, knowing deep down that if I could find that missing piece of myself, I would have answers. I was severely disappointed and realized quickly that not only did my birth parents not have answers for my life, they had both spent their lives living in a strange, unsavory place of unhappiness and denial. Truth be told, I could not get away from them fast enough. The experience was devastating, and a feeling of being alone in the world overtook me. For a few years, I put my quest on hold, thinking I had nowhere else to turn for answers. In fact, it took me decades to understand the concept of ambiguous loss and come to terms with where I came from.
But I am what I am—a searcher—and in my mid-twenties, I began to search again. This time, rather than outwardly searching for another person to make me whole, I turned inward. On the cusp of that adventure, one of the greatest gifts life has afforded me presented itself. I met the most amazing, openminded woman, who listened to my life questions and my deep, strange need to search. As I spoke, I finally asked her my ultimate question. “What’s wrong with asking questions?” She looked startled, then laughed. Her response changed my life. “Nothing! Why not?”
Why not? Two simple words. But with them came my freedom again, or almost a permission slip to be myself, an odd sense of belonging to something I could not put my finger on, and a strong thirst for new kinds of knowledge. I began, in a mid-twenty-something way, to pore over books on religion, philosophy, and metaphysics. The deeper the subject, the better. Still, I kept this journey to myself. I rarely spoke of it.
I slowly began to realize that people did not have answers because few ever asked questions. They simply lived a life the way they had been taught, even if they were unhappy or even miserable. Struggle became their truth; denial became their way out. I also eventually realized that people can’t give knowledge that they don’t have. With each admittance, I grew more excited about finding my own answers and leaving the old ways behind.
Two years into my new sense of freedom, my mother died. During one of our last conversations, she told me that she didn’t know if her lifelong belief in traditional religion “worked.” No doubt she was reflecting on her life, her choices, and the reality of life after death. Her fear opened the path for my search to go deeper, broader. I decided that when my own life ended, I would not be in the same place as my mother. It was another indescribable, spinning feeling.
Over the years I traveled, poured my mind into ancient texts and philosophies, and new, modern thought. Slowly I began to encounter people who would try to answer my questions—from Buddhist monks to Catholic nuns, and countless independent thinkers. I went to Sufi dances, classes on everything from developing intuition to compassion, and others I can’t even put into words. Some of the knowledge was easily understandable, some took me years to assimilate and see the wisdom. In the end, it all served a purpose; it kept me thirsting for more. Slowly, I also began to see some of the puzzle pieces of my life falling into place.
One of the most important components that I learned about was human nature. I realized that unhappy people, both consciously and unconsciously, keep others from stepping onto their unique pathway. One person’s limited thinking has the power to keep many people scared of the unknown, even with life being one big unknown. Limited thinking sometimes becomes generational until one person comes along and begins the task of asking questions, taking on the risk of being different, being the one to step out of the lines that were drawn for us decades ago and kept us in check for far too long.
I know now that I am one of those people.
In her book Circle of Stones, author Judith Duerk repeatedly poses this question to women: How would your life be different if, as a young woman, there had been a place for you, a place where you could go to be among women…a place where you felt darkness, anger, or sorrow? A place away from the ordinary busy-ness of life...a place of women who knew the cycles of life, the ebb and flow of nature, who knew times of work and quiet...who understood? How would your life be different today?
After my father’s death in 2011, I asked myself that question repeatedly. How would my life be different today if I had been able to share my youthful thoughts, speak through my pain, and have someone that listened to me and validated my life? Did it have to be as difficult as it had been at times? It was with that in mind that I began my website. I wanted to offer women that special place, the one Judith Duerk wrote about—a place of self-expression, sharing, and empowerment.
My site, like life, will always be a work in progress. Change is the nature of life. That’s just the way it’s meant to be.
Today, looking back, I realize the gift of my quest for those unanswered youthful questions. I would also be remiss if I did not tell you how much I have loved every single minute of my journey. I hope never to lose the thrill of the moment when I stumble across a new piece of wisdom that elevates my thinking and life. I like the narrow path, the rocky path, and the off-beaten pathway that have brought me to the place I am now in—a place of grounded-ness and a deep unwavering call to share with other women.
Life does not have to be as hard as it has become. The answers are there, in that circle of women. And so, it is with two feet firmly planted that I move forward.