Some questions have obvious answers and need not be asked. I used to have an acute case of Stupid Question Syndrome: There was a time when they could actually wreck my day, pushing my irritation meter into the dangerous red zone. Some examples:
8:00 a.m. Stand in line for 15 minutes at Starbucks. Arrive at the register, where a perky teenager with whitened teeth chirps, “Did you want to place an order today?”
9:20 a.m. Spill now-cold coffee on white shirt while in stop-and-go traffic. Dash into office, pass girlfriend who whispers, “Running a bit late today, are we?”
10:50 a.m. Legal assistant hesitantly hands me a note during meeting with important client: Daughter on phone. Urgent — says to interrupt you. Embarrassed, I excuse myself, pick up the phone, and my daughter coos, “Mom, sorry to bother you, were you busy?”
1:30 p.m. Back from lunch with red Marinara sauce dribbled down white shirt, next to morning’s coffee stains. Receptionist points, “Is that an oopsy on your blouse?”
3:25 p.m. Hand assistant marked-up document with note reading, “Need tomorrow.” Assistant furrows brow and says, “Marjorie, should I do these revisions first?”
5:11 p.m. Boss appears, wild-eyed, in my doorway. Overlooked pleading due first thing in the morning. He asks, “What are your plans for this evening?”
This sort of human interaction tested my patience and goodwill. My desire to retaliate would mount, and I’d often be tempted to fire off an uncharitable response — like when I nearly responded to my boss, “Sorry, but I have my evening class tonight — ‘How to Manage Your Manager.'”
Call it an Alpha female problem. Call it a consequence of multi-tasking, stress, or dysfunction. Just call it normal, take a Valium, and get on with it. Still, it’s this sort of annoyance that starts a woman wondering, “Isn’t there more to life?”
Eventually, it was my children who coaxed me to a new point of view — whose love began my recovery from my sad case of Stupid Question Syndrome. Stupid questions, after all, are rarely about information.
My red-headed, freckled, five-year-old Will stuck a paper clip into an electrical outlet and zapped himself. More frightened than hurt, he sat back and glared at the wall socket, as though waiting for his assailant to show itself. Days later, Will grabbed my finger in his chubby hand, dragged me to the vicious hole in the wall, and held up a paper clip. “Mommy, I should not put this into that hole, right?” He repeated the same drill intermittently for the next few months.
My other son once became fixated with Sylvan Learning Center commercials. Earnestly, he told me, “Mom, luff for readings starts wit help from Syvand Learning Center.” The next day, he returned with more information. “Syvand Learning Center gifts you luff for life-long readings.” Tucked into bed, he gently pulled my face toward him. “Mom,” he whispered, “Syvand Learning Center helps you reads better, right? But, Mom, I can’t reads yet. So I don’t need to goes to Syvand Learning Center, right?”
Even now, years later, I am reminded that there really are no stupid questions. I recently went snorkelling with my college-age daughter in some stunning coral drifts off the coast of Kauai. It was a dreamy sea under a baby-blue sky. As we treaded there together, bound by love and current, my daughter held up her snorkel. “Mom,” she said with wide brown eyes, “you don’t put both ends under the water, right?”
“Right,” I confirmed, without a trace of irritation, giving her a pat of encouragement — remembering the last stupid question I myself had asked.
Only days earlier, kneeling in prayer at Adoration, contemplating a person who had seriously hurt me, tears streaming down my face, I begged God, “Why do you let this man hurt me like this, dear Lord? I don’t need this!” Gently, His words filled me — His love and reassurance reached and held me. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Mt 6:8-9).
God, I knew, was not irritated by my stupid question. Really, there are no stupid questions.