I read this today in the Writer’s Almanac: ”My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.” (Thornton Wilder)
How, I wonder, does one like me, cursed with a compulsion to comprehend, live such advice. It seems as if my drive to understand, to take things apart and comprehend what and why, becomes so strong sometimes that I lose track of the ice cream melting on my plate.
I do know that some of the compulsion is driven by anxiety. When I get anxious about something, I want to collect more information about it. When I am anxious about losing something that is important to me, I want to know more about what people are doing. I start digging, asking questions, sharing information and seeking knowledge. The word “why” is inflated and fills the room, taking away breathing space for something else.
Seeking knowledge is not bad things. I was nurtured at the breast of knowledge. Seeking understanding is a virtue. The more we understand about what is happening and what others are thinking and doing, the more likely we are to respond appropriately. A lack of understanding often leads to actions that do not turn out as good as we had hoped.
But, when a seeking to understand gets intensified by fear it becomes a compulsion. And when we are obsessed with comprehending, we are often blinded to the life that is right in front of us. We wrestle around in our mind with our conundrum while the ice cream drips off the plate to be licked up off the floor by the cat.
So, I want to follow Thornton Wilder’s advice and eat my ice cream while it is on the plate. I think I will have to spend some time looking at what is right in front of me instead of worrying too much about the future that I can’t control. Maybe then I can enjoy more fully the gifts of pleasure that make up my life.