‘Look’, he said, waving a scrap of paper in front of me, ‘the doctor’s been and this is what he thinks I’ve got.’ The phrase on the page was vaguely familiar but before I could begin untangling the words he whipped the paper away announcing, ‘I’ll know all about it soon. My son is Googling it’.
To Google is to be a question in search of an answer, but sometimes the questions we have are too subtle for a search engine. Ask Google about the meaning of life and once you’ve ploughed through Monty Python’s take on it there’s still over 350 million answers to filter, more than enough to stun you into an exhausted silence.
Being silent in the face of the ultimate questions of human existence ‘permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts’, said Pope Benedict in a message for World Communications Day.
This idea that the way to meet the deepest human challenges of life is already written on our hearts, seems completely obvious yet tantalisingly just out of reach.
I’m most aware of this paradox when sitting at the bedside of dying patients. When there is no more treatment and no possibility of extending life, there is nothing more profound than silence. It’s not that people are struggling for the right words to say, it’s that there is no need to say anything. This is the silence that Benedict talks about where Google and its endless answers are an irrelevance.
The wonderful thing about this silence is that you don’t need a set of beliefs or be religious to cross its threshold. It’s open to all. Helplessness, tears, and grief are the usual vehicles into this space of deep reflection where questions disappear because we come face to face with the utmost knowledge of our own being. Some people need a bit of a hand to let it envelop them, others fall into it quite naturally.
This says Pope Benedict is where a more eloquent response to the ultimate questions of life is enabled, an eloquence that has depth, richness and almost certainly, more questions.
I hope Google helps this man get answers about his condition. What it won’t do though is help him with the ultimate questions his new status demands he considers. Fortunately, how to manage that is already inscribed upon his heart.