In Zora Neale Hurston’s profound Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” In this context, the protagonist, Janie, is contemplating what to make of her singlehood and the pressure to get married. Everyone in her life seems to have something to say about her marital status–her primary contemplation at the beginning of the novel. But the universality of chapter’s three opening line makes us consider the other pieces of our lives that have yet to settle into place: Will I keep wondering, or will I soon be in a state of knowing?
One answer to this tension lies in the novel’s opening paragraph:
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.”
What I see in this passage is patience. As I marched in Tallahassee’s Women’s March this weekend, I wondered what all of it–the signs, the speeches, the chanting, the solidarity–would mean moving forward. Would numbers speak for themselves? Would people engage in dialogue about one of the many issues included in the march’s platform? Would our president acknowledge a worldwide, collective effort meant to hold him and his administration accountable? Would we have to march again every year for as long as I live?
Evidently, this is a year that asks questions. We have been challenged and presented with an opportunity to play a role in creating an answer. A spiritual framework for this tension could include fate, destiny, and free will, which can support as well as contradict one another: Fate is “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power”; destiny is “the events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future”; and free will is “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate.”
When we say “time will tell,” are we trusting the spiritual cruise control of fate and destiny, or are we deferring to the autonomy of free will, knowing very well, as Hurston writes, Time can mock us along the way? This is when the intersection of wishing and waiting creates wonder. As I walked home in the pouring rain from the rally, I wondered what would happen next, believing that the universe already does know the answer (as I do believe in fate and destiny), but very well believing that my free will–our free will–to act or not act in this year of questions will create the answer we receive in the year of answers.