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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


"Who's hungry?" Sometimes, context can be everything. Listeners, even those who casually overhear a question, can make their own meaning of it, regardless of what was intended, perhaps baffling the one who posed the question. Not only can that meaning be assumed and made, without checking for clarification, but action, in good will, can be taken upon it. While that action can be far from its intended outcome, it can give one pause, shift one’s thinking, change one’s direction.

Such was the case on that lush, green day, in the field dotted with the colors of summer, overlooking the pond, with friends whose paths we were so fortunate to have crossed so many years prior in a land far from those from which we had both hailed. Friends who, on many levels, had profoundly influenced and impacted our lives, not through intention or forced opinion or even subtle suggestion, but through the sincerity of their volunteered stories, the zest in their eyes and the emotion in their voices when they revisited those moments with us as their witnesses. The recounts of those stories were so real to me I could feel them with all my senses: the light, the sounds, the textures, the tastes, the feelings. They took me on vicarious journeys with them, planting seeds I did not even know had been gifted to me, but would later sprout and blossom into some of my most profound experiences: choices, places, passions. Reflecting on it now, those points of influence are far more numerous than I could have guessed. It comes as no surprise, then, that the response to that singular, isolated question has lingered in my mind, and now, has manifested itself on this page: Who’s hungry?

It came from up the slope, off the edge of the deck, in the familiar, confident voice of my teenage daughter. I, who instinctively knew who the question was directed toward, what the reason was, when it was being asked, where it was being directed, why it was being asked the way it was, how the tone would elicit the desired result, our friends were hearing it fresh and free from all of those contexts, and hopped into action: I can get dinner started!

I laughed, at myself, for never before hearing the question in the way it had been received. I was so used to hearing it for its intended result to whom it was directed that I had not even considered this other possible audience: ourselves. I was grateful for their willingness to take care of our needs, but, ironically, my daughter was the one attending to other needs, not asking that her needs be met at all.

When contemplating this or any other (seemingly) simple, direct question, it can be revelatory to reflect on the following:

Who leads the direction toward the answer? The one asking the question? The one it is directed toward? The one who happens to overhear it?

What is more important? The intended question? The result of how the question was interpreted?

When a question is asked, are we alert and ready to hear it? Can it snap us out of a slumber we did not realize we were in? Lead us to a new realization?

Where are we when we hear the question? How can that can frame our interpretation of it? How our instincts kick in? How we respond? If we respond?

Why were we the recipient of that particular question, intended or not, at that very intersection of time and space, of people and circumstances? What greater meaning does it have for us?

How do we let that question sink in? Is there time? Do we allow the time? Is time suspended?

While I was not the intended audience for that question, it left me wondering: Who IS hungry? For what? Not in the literal form, but figuratively. What do we hunger for? I hear it now as a challenge, the taunt of a coach shouting in the middle of a sweaty huddle with just a few seconds left on the clock, eyes lit up with belief in the potential of the team surrounding the voice: Who’s hungry? Who wants it? The question can give us pause. Are we acknowledging our hunger? For what? What are we longing for that we have not allowed to visualize in the silence?

We can think back through our own experiences and identify similar questions or situations in our lives. Other questions to consider (that have shifted the direction of my own life): Why don’t you X? Why aren’t you X? Ironically, the negative framing of those questions somehow tosses a line of hope to the recipient, who didn’t even know it was needed. The negative gives something for the line to grab on to, allowing ourselves to make that reassuring contact with the shore and pull ourselves toward it. Sit with the questions. Allow the silence to feed the possibilities.

So who was the intended audience of that simple question shouted form the deck on that vibrant summer day? In swift response to that question, toward the voice that beckoned them, out of sheer animal instinct, came barreling our Labrador Retriever pups, chocolate and yellow, brother and sister, ears flopping, tails wagging, tongues bouncing. They heard the call. They knew it was meant for them. They knew what that question really meant. Ironically, the question was not a question at all, but a command, an invitation: a command to come home, an invitation to be nourished. A spoken command would likely not have moved them (just like us, they can certainly be stubborn), but a question? That question? That moved them in an instant. What command or invitation have we been resisting that we can instead reframe as a question? Let's identify one and give it a try. It just might set us off barreling toward the nourishment we have been ready for all along.


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