Ask The Most Important Question

what you don't want to know, what you don't know, ask to find out, ask this question, what your friends know and you don't,
CC Flickr photostream of fontplaydotcom

“I ask once or twice a year,” she told me. “But it’s a powerful question. It should only be used wisely.”

I was interviewing a woman I’ll call Ms. C. for a newspaper series. She was truly an elder. I don’t mean age-wise, although she appeared to be in her mid-seventies or beyond. By elder I mean the sort of person who lives deeply and gladly passes along what she has learned.

Ms. C. dressed up for our meeting. She wore a navy blue suit and dazzlingly patterned silk shirt, a tiny hat perched on her elaborately coiffed hair, and bright red lipstick that made her dark skin glow. The outfit I’d tossed on looked pretty casual by comparison.

Ms. C talked about approaching life with wisdom. She spoke precisely, with poetic imagery, but also slid easily into humorous retorts. I felt a wondrous enlargement of spirit in her presence and was, frankly, reluctant to end our interview.

Then she mentioned that she employed the most powerful question of all.

I was eager to find out what that might be.

She told me that it should be asked only when the questioner felt strong and ready for the answers. And it should only be asked of those who loved you and could be trusted to tell the truth.

She told me she asked her husband (of 42 years) every now and then. She also asked her sisters and close friends, usually when she felt prompted by some unknown impulse.

The question seems simple: “Is there something I should know?”

She said the answers it evokes are rarely simple.

When Ms. C. kept receiving important and sometimes surprising answers to that question it inspired her friends to take up the question too. She gave me a few examples.

~One person was told by everyone she asked that she needed to seek medical help for a condition she thought was under control.

~Her sister was advised to stop wearing clothes that were too tight for her.

~A neighbor found out that his son was back on drugs.

~Her husband was informed that a long-standing habit of his infuriated his best friend.

~A former co-worker learned that she came across as haughty and cold, and needed to learn how to get past her shyness to let people see her warmth.

~A friend was told that a secret he thought had been buried long ago was out but no one had wanted to break the news to him.

Ms. C. said that she mostly listens to what the Quakers call the “small still voice” inside her but she has one ear open to what else she might need to know.

I tend to think there’s peace right beyond the need of answers but I won’t deny that Ms. C’s question has its uses. Nor will I deny that truth-telling feels wonderfully liberating.

Do you have a truth just itching to get free, if only a certain person would ask you?

And what about truth seeking? Will you be asking the most powerful question?

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Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.