I have always been comfortable living with questions. The world is an infinitely fascinating place, beguiling mysteries remain unsolved and my reply is a pilgrim’s curiosity and cheerful puzzlement. Besides, I always figured that to ask, to question was to enter into a dialogue with God. I’ve enjoyed the repartee — although a lifetime’s discourse has taught me that any answers are really further questions posing in disguise.
This magazine edition comes not with answers but with plenty of questions.
All the questions you read here come from Gary Gaffney, artist, poet and mathematician. Gaffney did doctoral work in mathematics at Notre Dame. In 1969 he left the University — ABD, all but dissertation — to become an artist, earning two degrees in fine art. For the past 25 years he has created an impressive body of work and served on the faculty of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. “Art,” he says, quoting the European playwright Eugene Ionesco, “is the collision of a man with the universe.”
His questions — 1,000 in total — expose the heart and soul, mind and brain of a man engrossed with that elegantly designed universe, a man examining life’s meanings with a penetrating and creatively facile intelligence . . . and a wry wink of amusement with the contradictions and absurdity of our world.
Gaffney’s explanation for his questions, collected into a poem he calls “Mil Preguntas, (a meditation in 1000 questions),” is simple: “A student, Will Hutchinson, discovered that Japanese children in Hiroshima make 1,000 origami cranes as a prayer for peace, so he proceeded to construct a piece from 1,000 origami cranes himself. I wrote a short poem entitled ‘1000 Cranes,’ and a poet friend of mine, Matt Hart, decided in response to write a poem of 1,000 lines. I responded with my poem of 1,000 questions.”
Gaffney sent the poem to us and graciously allowed us to present it to you in a most unorthodox way — across the cover (wonderfully rendered by artist Michael Newhouse) and throughout our pages.
As we brought together other essays for this issue — an issue speaking mostly of summer and childhood — we realized they also had this in common: questioning.
One article deliberates the swirl of ethical, moral, legal and practical considerations in a personal scenario that is national in scope. Another challenges the power of prayer and the place of God in our lives, while another ponders life after death — and the possibility of a loved one reaching back across the divide to comfort those left behind. Others rethink conventional wisdom, accepted norms, the latest trends.
According to the poet-artist, the 1,000 queries are not set in rigid order. They are meant to be thought about, not read in a single sitting. In fact, we couldn’t fit them all into this issue. All 1,000, however, are available here. And if you go there, you are invited to posit your own questions. You can supply some answers, too, if you’d like.
Kerry Temple ’74 is editor of Notre Dame Magazine.