The Best Question

Tonight at dinner Lily asked, “Mama, what is your favorite question?”

Well, quite possibly the one you just asked me, I thought, setting down my drink.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“You know, like, ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’ or ‘how.”

Oh. Gotcha.

“Definitely ‘why’,” I answered.

“Me too,” she said.

“Why?” I asked. Naturally.

She hemmed and hawed a minute before offering an “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” answer. (It’s a children’s book. The mouse asks for a cookie, then a glass of milk, then a straw, then a napkin, then a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, then a pair of scissors when he sees in the mirror that his hair needs a trim, then a broom to sweep up the hair trimmings, etc.)

“You ask, ‘Why is there life on Earth?” and then you ask, “Why were those elements on Earth?” and then you ask, “Why did the universe form?”, and then you ask, “Why did God make the universe?” and then you ask, “Why is there God?” She continued for a few more whys while I stared at her, this child who is the single most beautiful creature ever put on this Earth.

“So you like the ‘why’ questions because they lead to more questions,” I said when she finished.

“Yes,” she said. Then she used the word “infinite”.

Hours later, I couldn’t sleep, thinking about why we like the whys.

Who, what, when and where are details, easy pieces, things to forget and / or file away.

How is problem-solving. It’s about science and patience, the answers to it being challenging but ultimately knowable. I’d guess it is Lily’s second favorite question.

But “why”…

It is the magical question. It is the question of art and literature, religion and love.

It is the one whose answer might change depending on time or perspective, whose answer might never come.

It is, as my fifth-grader instinctively understands, the question that leads to more questions.

Our dinner conversation reminded me of this quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “…try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.”

My prayer for Lily is that she always loves “why” the most, that where some would be frustrated with its rabbit holes, she is delighted with its opportunities.

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8 thoughts on “The Best Question

  1. Knight,

    “Why” am I commenting? ……Such a wonderful and thought provoking article.

    I come on here from time to time as I catch your articles posted on Facebook. I have never been disappointed with any of them. Sparking curiosity and thought is an ability and craft that most people seldom care to share these days. Perhaps lazy afternoons in (a once small) good ole Mt Juliet encouraged and fostered this intellect along with a teacher named Mrs. Stivendar?

    Whatever it was has me interested in continuing to read your articles. Keep it up!

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