I must have been an extremely trying three year old. At this age every parent must deal with a constant string of questions, many unanswerable. Apparently, I never grew out of that stage, for I believe in questioning. Like the child in the fairy tale who tugs at his mother’s hand and asks why the king is wearing no clothing, I have a penchant for challenging the status quo.
My inquiring mind was nurtured throughout my childhood in the in the Age of Aquarius. I was only one among many who questioned everything from our involvement in Viet Nam and inequality for women and people of color to the necessity of wearing a bra.
My wonderings led to introspection and action. “Why can’t she pay for a kidney transplant to save her life?” led to the production of a musical fundraiser in my tiny community. How do we treat those less fortunate than ourselves?” prompted both a trip to a local institution for the mentally retarded where I wiped feces from the walls, and my choice of a career in special education. “Why is that grown up allowed to make fun of a student?” made this rule-following teenager walk out of her classroom in protest. As former sinful activities all of a sudden became acceptable practice, I asked, “Who is God?” “What is religion?” and “How do I fit in to all this?” and left my family’s church in search of answers.
Answers have not always come comfortably or easily. Introspection has kept me honest with myself as I encountered my own racism, homophobia, and other prejudice. I landed my first teaching job due to efforts to integrate public schools in the south. I moved from a dairy farm in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country to New Orleans where I was one of only a half dozen white teachers. It was a hotbed for questions both large and small. History came alive when I realized that my new friends were actually the people I had seen in photographs who had to drink from separate water fountains and eat in different restaurants from people like me, and observed first hand the careful separation of races in the south. “Is this right?”
My belief in asking hard questions has changed my life. “Who am I?” preceded my divorce. “How can I label a three year old as having a disability when his language delay may come from his growing up in a home where his parents each speak a different language, neither of them English?” caused me to lose my job as a teacher whose caseload needed to be increased in size.
After more than half of century of living I have not run out of questions. I was recently told that dating me is like being in the Inquisition. Nevertheless, as long as I see injustice, oppression and just plain wrong, as well as things I don’t understand, I will continue to ask “Why?” and seek a better way.
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