Life is a question with no answer. I think we may feel that most when we are most alive. Maybe being alive is the same as not being afraid to BE the question. When we are young we simply assume, as the bedrock of our lives, that there is some answer, not necessarily one that will be given, but one that exists. Or at least that was the case for me, and was probably why, in my late teens and early twenties, I was so scared and repelled by Sartre’s work. Being a question that has no answer is maybe like lying on a thumb-tack. No way to fall asleep, that’s for sure. And no way to get off the tack. The answer is, of course, obvious, at least after a while. The answer to Life is Death. Most of us can’t know this when we’re young, and at those times the answer to Life is Action.
The Sun calls everything to Life. A long time ago I was attending university on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The winter was very cold and very long, and the lake froze between the shore and the offshore islands that mark the place where the Saint Lawrence River pours into the lake. When you live in a true winter country the sun comes back long before the snow melts. People ski shirtless and get sunburns. The maple sap is exploding in the trees, and it is sugaring-off season. The buds on the black trees swell, but still it’s winter. The spirit rises up like sap, leaping up to meet the sun.
And again, the answer to Life in those days was always Action. I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t contain the fire that was rising up in me, couldn’t just stay still and be where I was for one more day. As a result I decided “Okay. I’m out of here. I’ll just quit school and run away to the city.”
This was a wild and mad plan, one that was, I knew it, going to break my parents’ hearts. I couldn’t do it without support, and my friends stayed up with me, prepared to keep me on my feet until I could get the morning train as it travelled from Montreal to Toronto. Towards dawn a ragged wind blew up. We walked down to the frozen lake and out on the long pier. The wind grew in strength until it was a wet roar. As it peaked, the lake began to groan and roar in response. All at once, in one great heave, the ice broke. Chunks of ice as big as vans were rearing up, falling back. Gulls were wheeling and screaming over the opening water. It was a wildness of gulls and crashing ice and roaring icy water, the great frozen lake’s response to the demands of the sun to break free.
Strange to be writing this in the middle of winter, when the sun shows itself only briefly over the tops of the mountains, sinking back to leave us in a long twilight that ends about four o’clock in the afternoon. But just for a little while this morning I am wide awake and full of life, my response to the sun’s short visit in the dark November.
On the Tree of Life the Sun takes us from Nine to Eight, from the dark of the Moon to the bright light of consciousness. But it’s only the first part of the journey. The forms of consciousness are transitory, like ice crystals forming a halo around the sun. The fine structural subtleties that play at Eight rely on the solar light to illuminate them. We don’t last long, but the Light does. The ice breaking is a wild moment in time, but the lake will freeze again, and under its surface the cold darkness will continue. Even the Sun is only a form, and takes its fire from whatever fires the universe. Beyond every sun is another, until we reach the Kingdom of the Sun Himself. C.S. Lewis called this “Aslan’s Country”.