I don’t know what age children are when they start asking, ‘But why?’ Are they three-years old? Four? And when does the, ‘But why?’ battery wear out? I going to guess it wears out sometime around sixteen; the age at which the questions evaporate because they (kid-ults) know the answer to everything. From such secure foundations of our all-knowing teenage years, we build a skyscraper of knowledge enabling us to confidently fly high on air-streams of wisdom and understanding until we come crashing to earth with the effects of certain lived experiences to which there seem to be no answers. When this happens – and I think it’s almost inevitable that it does – the, ‘But why?’ refrain bubbles up from our childhood and begins to echo in our head once more. At least that’s how it is for me. I’m right back at the questioning stage; singing the old Johnny Nash song in my head: ‘There are more questions than answers, Pictures in my mind that will not show, There are more questions than answers, And the more I find out the less I know.’
Thing is, when you are four and five and six years old, there is usually someone to tell you ‘why’: why, for example, you must go to bed. It might be the calm, straightforward, no-nonsense explanation of: ‘because it’s bedtime.’ It might be a little more reasoned: ‘because when you don’t get enough sleep you are as grizzly as a baby bear woken early from hibernation.’ You might go for bluff and bluster, back them into a corner with too much information: ‘I’ve just read a peer-reviewed, five-star journal article providing evidence-based research on the correlation between childhood sleep-deprivation and choosing poor life partners as an adult. Now, go to bed.’ You might even have reached yelling point – ‘Because I say so!’ – born out of a bottomless well of exasperation which really veils the truth of wanting to watch the last episode of Baptiste in peace whilst drinking a glass of red wine. Generally, though, as adults we are happy to guide children, help them make sense of the world by cheerfully navigating their ‘whys’.
My problem is around the grown-up, gigantic, colossal, mammoth ‘but whys?’ The natural disasters, sudden deaths, tragic accidents: the opposite of luck. In these instances the indecipherable, ‘But why?’ can become a place of torture. Some brave souls try to fashion answers; answers that take us through a puzzling maze of philosophy, theory, magic, faith. Some days, though, the most helpful answer might be the least satisfying one – ‘just because.’ I have come to realise those days when I drop the angles and viewpoints and give up on knowing the answer is very different to giving up, it’s quite freeing, actually.
Equipment, by Edgar Guest
Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say “I can.”
Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.
You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.
You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.
Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: “I can.”