I don’t know if I’m more curious than other people or merely more self-indulgent, but as I go through my day, I wonder an awful lot of things. Since I’m also a fairly conventional person who mainly hopes to get through the day without pain or discomfort, I rarely ask these questions out loud.
Sometimes asking these questions would be counterproductive:
“Student B, what on earth did you think we’ve been talking about for the past month?”
“How can you honestly be surprised at getting a bad grade when you’ve gotten nothing but bad grades all semester long?”
“If you knew the bill was coming, why did you spend the money with which to pay it?”
Some are impolite:
“Do you regret that tattoo?”
“How did you get that scar?”
“Have you been fat your whole life?”
“Why do you always smell like sweat and onions?”
Or deal with taboo subjects:
“”Do you resent me because I’m white?”
“Why don’t corpses look like their living counterparts?”
“Are my breasts lopsided?”
Some questions are simply unanswerable or aren’t actually questions to begin with:
“Why do you act like that?”
“Are you lying to me?”
“Why can’t you be proud of me?”
And some questions I’m just afraid to hear answered:
“Why are you avoiding me?”
“Do you look down on me because I was divorced/childless/have boogers hanging out of my nose?”
and, most terrifying of all: “Do you love me?”
I especially wonder about people’s conversion process. I value Kathleen Norris’ work for many reasons, but one of them is certainly her honest transparency about her own conversion. The only “conversion” I’ve experienced in my own life is repentance, insofar as true repentance involves a turning away from one thing and a turning towards God. But my turning has been a lifelong process (and I suppose most people’s are), and it happens so slowly that it’s only in retrospect over decades (and I’m less than 30) that I can see any change in my essential character at all. In my mind, “conversion” the way Mormons speak of it involves some sort of major internal upheaval, or if not upheaval, at least a significant change in one’s overall direction and priorities. We speak of a “mighty change of heart,” don’t we? I am grateful that I was raised in a believing home, and grateful still that I was able to make choices to gain a testimony of my own, but sometimes I feel like I’ve missed out on something because I haven’t experienced that the same way. Because it’s something that isn’t part of my experience, it’s something I have a gabillion questions about:
Why did you decide to get baptized?
Were you looking for the Gospel when you found it?
How did you feel about your life just before all of this happened? Were you content? Unhappy? Neutral?
If you were taught by missionaries and were baptized as an adult, how did it feel to be taught by people obviously less experienced than yourself?
What was it that made you willing to listen? What softened your heart?
Were there any particular doctrines that suddenly clicked to you, that you suddenly understood in a new way? What were they? Why were they so significant?
Was there anything painful in your conversion process? Was it worth it?
If you had it again to do over now, would you make the same decision?
Of course I never mean for any of these questions to be hurtful, which I suppose is why (most of the time) they remain safely tucked behind my teeth. My questions aren’t meant to wound, but are really aimed at understanding other people better. By not asking them, there is something about other people’s experience– and therefore their identity– that I’m not comprehending. Then again, by asking, I would probably alienate them further, and there would be something slightly voyeuristic in the process. If I knew these people well enough, I would probably know the answer, and to simply ask without the emotional investment required of a relationship is pretty consumption-oriented. Does it matter why I want to know? Is it better if I ask because I want to understand people in general better, so I can serve them better, or is it better if I ask because I want to know you better? Is it ok if I just want to know because your face looks really weird and I sense a good story behind it? There is something sad in social convention that keeps us silent and avoidant when we want to point and stare and shout like small children. At the same time, aren’t people entitled to their own stories? The internet is all about sharing, sharing, and over-sharing. Aren’t people entitled to some kind of public privacy? And if so, am I cheating and being passive-aggressive by listing all these questions for you to answer if you choose? Or does the fact that you have the choice not to answer make it ok?