Lately, I find myself thinking about questions.
A friend’s 4-year-old, in the middle of the night, recently asked her the ultimate important question: “Mom, why do wolves avoid peanut butter sandwiches?” How long has it been since you wondered something so fanciful? More importantly — how long has it been since you asked that question out loud?
In the sexuality education class I am teaching, we give the children the opportunity to ask questions at the end of each class via a “question box.” Each child must put a card in the question box, even if the card says, “I don’t have a question” or “doughnuts are awesome,” to ensure the anonymity of the children asking actual questions. It feels like such a sacred privilege to be entrusted with these questions: “Am I normal?” their questions ask, in their essence. “What does this word I heard mean?” “Can you give me this information again?” “I heard a kid say this. Is that true?” “Will what we talked about happen to *my* body?” There is something so beautiful, innocent, and vulnerable about this process.
This process of asking and answering these sacred questions made me think about the sacredness of my daily work. It becomes so routine, it is easy to forget the holy vulnerability and privilege of answering the referral questions that come across my desk. The weight, and the power, and the sanctity of this process is lost in the paperwork and billing, and the needing-to-word-it-just-right-so-insurance-will-reimburse. But when you get past the noise, the questions and the sub-questions – they can be breathtaking.
I frequently use questions in my poetry. When I was 14, I wrote a poem made almost entirely of questions. It started like this:
When Dawn breaks
does she make any noise?
Will it sound like crackers?
Or a procession of toys?
Does she break with a bang?
Or shatter, like glass?
Or crash over the hill with a deafening blast?
More recently, though, I’ve realized that questions can be used to interrupt the flow and, ironically, say what needs to be said in a way that stands out. One example of this is a poem in which I address a person who hurt me. I express vulnerability and insecurity, and then ask him:
Did you know my soul wears fuchsia dresses?
The poem continues as I tell him:
…This soul flounces her fuchsia skirt as she
rejects conformity and stays so strong she
bites her nails and
wipes mascara from under her tear-stained eyes,
this soul wears fuchsia
even when she thinks she can’t,
even when her body shakes from the injustice of this world
and the rage she can neither name, nor contain…
That question became so much more than a question: it was an image, a touchstone, a solid landing place from which I could move. I literally bought a fuchsia dress. Did you know my soul wears fuchsia dresses?, I asked. Did you know I am a living, loving, loved, lovable, intelligent, emotional woman who is vibrant and full of life? This was the question that needed to be asked. I asked it, even if only in a poem, and it mattered. It mattered.
So perhaps, more importantly than thinking about questions, lately, I have been thinking in questions. I have been using phrases like “I wonder what it means that…” and “What if…” and “I wonder if we can be curious about…” I am breathing in the spaciousness these questions offer. I am learning to appreciate and settle into this expansion and opening and uncomfortable vulnerability.
Courtney Martin recently wrote a blog post asking, “what was your first question?” She writes
“Many of these first questions are asked from a painful place. So many of us didn’t get what we needed as children and we spend a lifetime looking for it. But the upside of that initial emptiness is that we create dynamic and beautiful things out of our yearning…[Children] focus in on unspoken truths like homing pigeons and then have the audacity to speak them; the world hasn’t yet acculturated them to fearing the sound of a silence breaking. They are not, in the best of all possible ways, team players. They are inexhaustible witnesses and truth seekers.”
I have been pondering this idea for weeks now — this idea of my first question, or my truest, deepest question. I have kept journals on and off since I was 7 years old. I have books upon books filled with writings and questions and musings — but my first question?
March is a time that leaves me searching for answers. Sometimes, I like to read through old journals, write letters to my younger self. Sometimes, I like to just keep moving forward. This year has left me reflective, and I found this piece of writing from 2010:
“I write because I am love-full and because I am angry. Because I am sad and disillusioned, because I am joyful and alive. I write to come as close to saying the truth as I possibly can, and I write to expose the places where the truth is hidden. I write to hold myself and others accountable for what they do in this world, to this world, to others, to themselves. I write because I get tired and overwhelmed by the injustices and the cruelty, and writing is the only way I know to call out those injustices in ways that can be heard. My writing is a form of truth-telling and meaning-making. I write because I love.”
And I think this is the question – the only question – I have ever asked. It is the only thing I ever write, it is my work, it is what I have been asking for as long as I can remember: where is the truth hidden?
Last week, some colleagues and I began necessary, challenging, essential dialogues with one another about racism. These dialogues, in this environment– they don’t happen. They aren’t happening. And we started them. We acknowledged to one another that we don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we cannot be silent and cannot allow this to stop us from doing anything at all.
So we sat together and began asking one another and ourselves all the questions we could imagine.
I recently saw a picture by Brian Andreas’ “StoryPeople” that said:
“In my dream, the angel shrugged and said if we fail this time it will be a failure of imagination
and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.”
With this responsibility, we will keep asking the questions of ourselves and one another. We will keep imagining all the questions we possibly can and dreaming of new and better answers. And then asking — always asking — where the next and deeper truth is hidden.