“Where are my keys at?”
Today it was keys. Last week it was a hat. Tomorrow it could be a book, a calculator, a… anything. Those with us who have a homing device for lost items (called a uterus in some circles) are used to these types of questions. But… I had a secret weapon answer for just this occasion.
“Why don’t you look behind the “at”?
Groan. Personally, and prepositionally, speaking, I love questions like this because my answer reveals three things. First, it reveals an opportunity for one of my heirloom mom-puns, handed down, with love, from my mother. The question is simply “Where are my keys?” Second, it hands back responsibility for the lost item to the loser. Not a capital “L” Lay-who-zay-her, with a Jim Carrey smirk, but the loser who misplaced the item in the first place. Important things, deserve attention and mundane things, like keys, take on importance when mindlessly left behind. Third, and most importantly, it shows me a willingness to question by my offspring. Offspring who could be rich if they could place bets on this pre-programmed response from me but are instead enriched by their willingness to ask questions.
I was a question-asking child. I can remember my mother standing at our kitchen sink filling a pitcher with water to make iced tea and she said if I asked her “Why?” one more time she would pour the water on my head. Well… even after all these years, the logical thing to come from my mouth was, of course… “Why?”
But, somewhere along the way, I stopped questioning. I think, sometimes, it was because experience had answered a lot of them. I didn’t have to ask the question to know the answer. For the most part, in my marriage, especially, I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to have an answer to the disquiet in my soul. Wrapping words around something you fear and punctuating it with a question mark leaves you open to being hurt by the truth in a way that changes everything. Because you can’t un-know something. So, for a time, it was easier to just stay quiet…until the quiet became a question of its own.
The story of my middle daughter, now 24, has revolved around her unceasing and sometimes unanswerable questions. Like “What’s it feel like to be a dirty car?” or “Can I get a job where I just give away money?” At 5 or 6 years old, she was training her brain to value the questioning process, as an answer, in and of, itself. Because whether or not you get some version of a truth from someone else does not matter as much as the truth — your truth — that is framed in the question. The answer, then, becomes almost inconsequential. This same daughter once asked to do something that she knew was not allowed. I don’t even recall what it was but I remember scoffing at the gall she had to even ask it so I was not even going to dignify it with a response. She was upstairs in her room and I was standing at the bottom of the stairs so we were not eye to eye. She had no visual cues or anything non-verbal to base my lack of response on… yet, an answer came. The one, actually she had been looking for. The sweet young voice that had dared venture into unquestionable territory followed up with “I’ll take your silence to mean Y-ES”. The “yes” of my silence was so golden it had two syllables and a lovely sing-song lilt.
In the quiet of questions, unasked or unanswered, is an implicit “yes”. Yes, I agree with you. Yes, you may do that thing you know you’re not supposed to by the virtue of my not saying no. Yes, you may treat my lack of giving voice as a lack of having choice.
This country was designed around our right to question. In the press. In public. In courtrooms and corporate board rooms where the accused and accountable are supposed to answer. Whether they are the answers we are seeking and whether or not they are based in fact is secondary to the question itself. Because our freedom isn’t in question until we are unwilling to question ourselves. With our judgements and biases based on assumption you must assume that the answer you are given is a reflection of them. So, the power lies in the question, itself, because it is held in the act of asking.
To circle back to where we started… Where is the power at? It is most definitely behind the at. That question mark leaves us open, and yes, vulnerable, to hurt and to change but the reality never hurt me as deeply as the illusion… the illusion I created for myself. The right questions won’t lead you to answers as much as they will lead to a trust in the questioning process. A faith in the formulaic approach of solving for variables, rather like algebra, I’m afraid. Trusting other people and trusting their answers becomes as impersonal as asking someone to show their work on their math homework. Being able to work through the process proves the theorem and provides the framework for future questions. Mathematicians know that a reliable process will, time and again, produce reliable results.
Once I began focusing on the question, I stopped praying for answers. Because it came down to the simple, first question and it soaked into me like a pitcher of water. Why? Why do I feel this disquiet? Why is all of this happening? Not why me, but simply “why”? Because just like my daughter innocently testing her limits from a flight-of-stairs-distance away — something or someone is hiding in the silence. Holding their breath hoping you don’t know. Hoping you won’t go “there”. Hoping you won’t question. Hoping against hope that you will go against your nature and not ask the next question which has always been “why”. The courage to keep questioning sometimes becomes a line of questioning that opens a pandora’s box of such magnificently brilliant questions that fit together like the puzzle of all puzzles and an answer is revealed.
The truth exists, regardless of who holds it, molds it or tells it. The question that leads to it does not exist until it is asked. I knew I would have to look my children and answer their “why” and the silence that locked up the answers would lock down on their freedom and willingness for their own lives. The question was the key.
So….. on exasperated repeat… “Where are my keys?”
Smiling. Victorious in my reply. “The last time I used them I put them away.” Sigh. Another inherited response. My mother didn’t have all the answers, but some of them hit the mark…. And, yes, he found them. On his own. They were in the “key bowl”. Right where he had left them. He had the answer all along….