One of the members of a discussion group I’m involved in posted, “’Why?’ is a question asked by pessimists.” My natural instinct was to disagree with him. As a teacher, I try to impress upon my students the importance of asking “Why?” Often, it is easier for me to remember how things should be done if I know why they are done that way.
In fact, I would argue that there are too many times when rules and consequences are applied without understanding why, and when that happens, the rules themselves become meaningless.
For example, the problem with “Political Correctness” is too many people talk about what should and shouldn’t be said without understanding why it matters. On one occasion, the staff of the student newspaper were called before the President’s Council on Diversity and were chastised for using a racial slur in one of their comics.
There was something ironic about watching a group of middle-aged white males chastising a group of Students-of-Color for not being sensitive to racial issues. The irony was magnified by the fact that the comic’s message was that hate is acceptable as long as you are careful about the words you use.
The reason that we should avoid using racial slurs is they are a form of group bullying. We not only hurt the individual to whom the slur was directed, but we demean and dehumanize whole groups at the same time.
So, in my mind, understanding “why” is important to understanding life, and I couldn’t fathom why anyone would say it was a negative question.
And then I realized sometimes there is no answer to that question, and wrestling with it keeps us connected to the pain of the things that we have lost. In our grief, we shout the question from the very depths of our souls, hoping to find an answer that will drive the pain away.
“Why can’t that person love me as much and in the same way as I love . . . ?” “Why are some people so cruel and insensitive?” “Why did that fire have to drive me from my home?” “Why can’t I find a job that will pay enough to care for my family?” “Why do people have to die so young?”
Maybe the answer can give us an outlet for the anger and frustration we feel. If we can just find someone or something to blame . . .
Maybe the answer will give us a reason to blame ourselves. Then we not only have an outlet for our anger, but we also have a reason for the guilt that is also part of our feelings of grief.
Some do find comfort in the assurance that there is an answer even though they don’t know what the answer is. “Everything happens for a reason.” “Just get through this, and someday you will understand.”
Maybe there is no answer, though, and maybe that’s okay.
My heart is heavy as I write this. Five years ago, we lost my sister, Glenda. Last week, we lost my nephew, Devin. Each loss leaves an empty place in my heart that I know will never be filled, and there is no answer to “Why?” that will fill that emptiness.
I understand grief. I know the feelings of sorrow, anger and guilt that accompany that emotion. But I don’t think I’ll ever understand “Why?”