My son is asking why all the time now. I guess this is the age when this sort of thing starts. It's pretty astounding, when you stop and think about it, how remarkably cliched much of early life is. We all go through the same stages, see the same road markers on the side of the road to adulthood. There is no one who gets to avoid crawling and then standing and then walking and talking and then asking whywhywhywhwywhwywhwywwhhwywhwywywhwywwhwywhwywhy?
Obviously this is annoying. For all the reasons you'd think: hearing anything repeated over and over again is always annoying, eventually there is no answer one can give, etc. But I think there is a more fundamental reason behind the pure, unadulterated annoyance of this question. First, you have to ask, why are all people between the age of three and four compelled to ask this question? This is not an American thing or a Mexican thing or an Indian thing. This is a people thing. So, why? Perhaps because it is the most fundamental question of our lives.
Why are we here? Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Why do I have red hair? Why am I attracted to who I'm attracted to? Why do I write? We can not escape this question, this searching. It begins early and continues long into our old age. Even Christ on the Mount of Olives asked why do you ask this of me, Father? Why?
So, if it is so necessary that children engage with this question, and hence engage with their own mortality and longing, then why is it so goddamn annoying for someone to keep asking it repeatedly? You'd think there would have been some built in tolerance for it installed in our primordial software long ago. There isn't. Why?
I think this is because, just as we feel compelled to ask this question, we also feel compelled to answer it when it is asked of us. And, in the end, we have no answer. Not really. At the end of every cycle of why's there is only a shrug, or silence. It makes you realize you are no different than anyone else. I am no better off than my three year old son. After 31 years I still don't have any more answers. I still am asking why. This is terrifying, and since it is easier to be angry or annoyed than to face one's own terror (especially at something so big and important as why) we get angry or annoyed. It is easy to do this.
I tried to answer my son tonight, and I couldn't. It took six why's before I had nothing left. Do Daddy and Collins have to stop at the red sign? Yes. Why? So cars don't get us. Why? Because that would hurt a lot. Why? Because cars are a lot bigger than people and they can squash people. Why? Because that's the way it is. Why? Because there are a lot of things that aren't fair in this world. Why?
I don't know.
I don't know.
Editorial Note: This was originally published on 8/21/12 on the now-defunct blog Dog Eat Crow World. It has been reposted here in it's entirety.