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big questions

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.  *Iris De Ment

“Why can’t daddy find a job? Why is the economy so bad? Why has it been like this since I was born?”

We were sitting at the dining room table when Bella asked this, a tumble of questions that came one after the other. The questions have been getting bigger lately. “What is physics?” asked Tobey. Or, after I alluded to it (my own making, I know, I know), there were questions about Roe v. Wade. (This came from watching a pretty amazing episode of The Walton’s about a failed pregnancy and how not all pregnancies were meant to be; the show was produced in ’73, the same year that the ruling came out and touches on a lot of issues germane to the abortion debate. Brave people, those Walton’s writers/producers/actors.)

I take a deep breath and try to answer what needs to be answered, to keep my responses within the bounds of what my kids actually need and want to know. But the economy??? I prattled on for about five minutes before Bella kindly said, “I didn’t get any of that.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I admitted. Because I don’t – not really. We’ve been watching videos from Wall Street, and I’ve shown them charts and graphs that indicate pretty simply the disparity in this country, but the hows and whys behind it are harder.

At ten, I wasn’t yet very aware of disparity – much less the whys and hows of  it. My grandparents had built a big house in the woods and it was still my playground of many rooms, an enormous woods, and trunks full of antiques and dress-up clothes. A few years later, it would seem a bourgeois pleasure dome. “Six bathrooms?” I’d huff with indignity, “Who needs six bathrooms?” I wasn’t thinking of how my grandfather’s father had lost his farm in the Depression and my grandfather had worked hard to not only buy it back but to buy the next farm and the one after that and even a pig farm in Costa Rica to boot.

But at ten, certain fears of the world were starting to creep in. I was recently aware of the Holocaust–largely via Judith Kerr’s YA novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit–and mourned its existence. Roots was on TV and slavery seemed an ancient and yet awful truth. I was beginning to focus on the possibility of nuclear war and fretted about it in the poetry notebook I kept. In the coming years, it would remain a dark cloud of possible abnegation. I hated guns — feared them terribly though I’d never seen one in person. And I had the smallest most horrifying inkling that my parents might die some day.

At eight, my son’s biggest fear seems to be that all he’ll get for Christmas is a mouth guard — a scenario he dolefully predicted last night, as though it were a certainty. In truth, he’s grappling with much more – including beginning to deal with the unfairness of playground games.  He has an imagination and sensitivity that runs deep. But I think (hope? why do we so want to protect our children from the thoughts they’ll be dealing with for a lifetime?) he’s still in the stage of childhood that has yet to enter these darker territories. My daughter, however, lives with her fears tucked a bit inside; I’m not sure what they are, but I can tell they’re whirling like stars in her thoughts. She’s just re-read a good graphic version of Anne Frank’s autobiography. She contains pinpricks of the disparities and trials the world is holding. Her dad is on the other side of the planet right now, and despite the miracle of Skype, despite that he’s been making this trek for much of her life now, it still must be unsettling in ways I can’t really understand. Her feet have grown nearly three shoe sizes in the past year, and though this is a cool trick, it must at some level be a bit odd; a precursor of changes to come, of mysteries yet to be revealed.

After I muddled through my attempt at deconstructing the economy’s current state (try explaining ideas like a “bubble” and “mortgages” to a ten-year old), I admitted: “There are a lot of big questions out there that I can’t wrap my mind around. It’s good try to understand, to stay curious, but sometimes you have to accept a certain amount of  mystery.” Bella nods at this explanation. For now, it seems enough.

In that Walton’s episode, when Olivia loses her baby — a baby that isn’t entirely wanted given the Depression and her age but which the family comes to embrace — she reprimands herself for having lost it by not taking care of herself. That’s just wrong, Grandpa gently chastises her. Thinking such is like pretending you are God. There are many things we simply aren’t meant to understand. Then he refills her tea cup saying, “Cold tea is cold comfort.”

We all need comfort now. One of the favorite parts of my week comes at the end of the yoga class I teach. I go to each person and rub their shoulders, cradle their head in my hands, then pull on their legs a little to stretch out their spines, and send them Reiki in the soles of their feet. I feel such tenderness for each person. It’s a sweet and important reminder in my week to slow down and feel – deeply and literally – those around me. We’re all grappling with our own set of “big questions.” We’re all coming face to face with life’s mysteries and with the inadequacy of so-called answers. Sometimes all we can do is touch each other, listen, and be present. No – not sometimes. Pretty much all of the time.

*I associate the song lyrics above with the singer Iris DeMent, but I can’t find who wrote it. It may be a traditional tune. Let me know if you know!

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2 thoughts on “big questions”

  1. I’m pretty sure Iris wrote the song. I found her credited with the writing in a bunch of places online, and it sounds like her writing to me. I love that song, and Iris.

    Great post, as always.

    xox

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