On learning life from life

He aprendido la vida de la vida, “I have learned life from life.” These are the words of Pablo Neruda from the poem, “Ode to the Book,” in which he casts aside words on the page for the immediacy of experience. I’ve loved this poem for the longest time, and these words have never been truer for me than now. From the time I could read, I consumed book after book, in search of compelling stories, complex characters, and literary worlds that helped me reflect on my own. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I often arrive at the first page of a book in search of answers.

I am a lover of questions, and of questions that lead to more questions, but there’s a persistent corner of my consciousness that wishes books were Magic 8-balls. I haven’t shaken up one of those round, little toys in many years, but I sometimes open a book with a similar approach.

Whether it’s fiction, memoir, or poetry, I’ve been drawn to the title by a half-formed question in the back of my mind, and by the last page, a part of me hopes I’ll have uncovered a roadmap, a step-by-step guide to the challenges and questions swirling beneath the surface of daily life. Other times, I secretly hope that by reading about an experience, I’ll be prepared for it in my own life and never be taken by surprise.

But in this time of transition—of graduating and building a career, of moving to a new city, of preparing for a wedding—the voice of Neruda nudges me again and again to simply learn life from life. To learn by doing and making mistakes. To let go and allow myself to be taken by surprise.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I suppose it is only with such openness that we invite in the possibility for our fears of the unknown to be unexpectedly swept aside by joy.