I was an inquisitive child, even today I can remember asking the “big” questions of relatives, “Why did God make people?” “Where did I live before I came to my family?” I took a poll once, figuring that whatever answer received the most votes must be the correct one. Aunts and uncles would smile, pat my head –or pull my nose and pretend they had it in their hand, as I asked them about the mysteries of life—and then my parents would remind me that children are to be seen and not heard. I grew a little older and loved learning about the “scientific method.” A corner of the laundry room became my lab as I spent hours looking at things under the microscope, mixing chemicals from my chemistry set and reading biographies about Louis Pasteur and Madame Curie. I had my “Junior Conservation Kit,” complete with tweezers and magnifying glass, to take on family campouts, where I gathered specimens of leaves and rocks in my preparation for my career as a forest ranger. Junior High, in the early seventies, introduced me to “social awareness,” I would strum my guitar and ponder my world of a war in Vietnam, space travel, overpopulation and pollution. (Don’t laugh, I even won a pair of binoculars and a bird watching book with my idea to clean up the air with a giant filter like the one in my aquarium.) High school introduced me to the world of political ideas and my favorite teacher, Mrs. Simmerman, kept us thinking about the Cold War, the Iranian Crisis and Watergate. I discovered George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and contemplated the consequences of living in my brave new world. Paradoxically, by the time I reached college when most young adults are just beginning to “question everything,” I settled down and I quit questioning anything, because I had the answers—all of them. What a wonderful place “the university” was — so secure, so certain, so sure.
But, as Dr. Timothy Johnson points out in his book Finding God in the Questions, “Passages between the seasons of life have a way of provoking questions to answers we take for granted because we’ve been living with them for so long. When change occurs, old questions often take on critical importance again.” I have learned that having “the answers” doesn’t necessarily mean “the questions” ever really go away, even those earliest questions of a precocious kindergartner or an awkward seventh grader. Perhaps, they can be shelved, they can be numbed, they can be buried, but always they will remain part of our lives. Reading, studying, pondering continued to be a part of my life squeezed in between dishes, laundry and teaching my children “the answers.” Unfortunately, as the great historian, Will Durant, has pointed out, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” And, discovering that ignorance, finally opened my heart to once again experience the childlike joy of “asking the questions.”
It is scary to feel like a kindergartner again, whether it is going back to school, trying to make a lump of clay look like a pot or sitting in front of a mirror struggling to sketch a self-portrait with a piece of chalk. But, kindergarten is also a wonderful place. Kindergarten is our first introduction to being independent. It is where we let go of our mother’s hand and learn to raise our own hands and ask questions. It is where we first experience the “burden of freedom.” It is a crossing of a threshold. Dr. Timothy Johnson continues, “ The pivotal points in my own pilgrimage have occurred when I crossed the thresholds of change-from inherited beliefs to intense questioning, from intense questioning to discovering what I truly believed and disbelieved.” As I too, passed through these thresholds of change, I have had to learn to live with ambiguity, uncertainty…and a few hot flashes. But I have also learned to appreciate this view of life expressed by Theubten Chodron, “I believe that spiritual practice is more about holding questions than finding answers. Seeking one correct answer often comes from a wish to make life which is basically fluid, into something certain and fixed. This often leads to rigidity, close-mindedness, and intolerance. On the other hand, holding a question—exploring its many facets over time-puts us in touch with the mystery of life. Holding questions accustoms us to the ungraspable nature of life and enables us to understand things from a range of perspectives.”
I loved “holding questions” as a child. I found peace in our school library and joy in my makeshift “laundry room lab,” as I got a little older. I enjoyed our naive discussions in my high school political science class. And now, as an adult, even without my “Ranger Rick Nature Kit”, I enjoy analyzing the “ungraspable nature of life.” I love discussing philosophy late into the night with Steve and often wish for the days of the Paris Salon. Most importantly, I have experienced fulfillment of the promise “Seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given….and always what I have received is more questions—just like Mrs. Simmerman used to do in American History!! No wonder she was everyone’s favorite teacher.
With this post, I have decided to close my “Seeking Peace” blog. Perhaps,“seeking peace” includes not posting the “innermost thoughts and feelings” of one’s heart in such a public forum. I will continue to post the ubiquitous vacation and birthday pictures on my other blog and I will continue to write the thoughts of my heart in a journal for my grandchildren. I have learned that being a writer, even a mediocre one, requires thick skin or a pseudonym, neither of which I have. So adieu my loyal readers!