A while back I took a group of students and I asked them, “When you really get thinking about your life, when you go to sleep at the end of the day and you have some serious thoughts, what kinds of questions do you ask yourself?” These are insightful kids, writers, thinkers, but not brainiacs or nerds. But they are 11, 12, 13 or 14 years old. I asked them to write the questions down but they could remain anonymous if they wanted to. Many did. I printed the questions out, each one separately on a regular sheet of paper and I attached them to a bulletin board outside the Guidance office. Every day when I enter the office I read a few. They never cease to make me stop and think.
Some were obvious. Why can’t the world live in peace? Why are kids afraid to be different? What is the meaning of life? Is it the big events or the small moments in life that count? How can you want to grow up one minute and hate the idea the next? Good questions all. Big questions. The kind of questions that when you get to a certain age, if you start wondering about your life at all, you might ask. I think kids have posed these questions forever. Maybe there’s no real answer to some of these questions, but it makes sense to ask.
Then there are the questions that seem up close and personal. I’m not sure what’s going on with these kids. Sometimes I get to find out, sometimes not. But the questions are close to the bone. If my life is already unfair, why is it still going downhill? Everybody has a mission in life, you don’t know yours until it hits you hard, so when is that? Why can’t I do what others can do? Why does life have to be so complicated? Why can’t anything go the way I plan? I feel for these students. I can’t step inside their lives and change things for them. It’s playing out, and they’re feeling it, and they have little control sometimes.
Some kids are looking out at the social scene. They’re trying to make sense of the culture around them. Friends and classmates, peers and people in general. They’re stopping for a second and surmising what the hell is going on. Do we know how we are affecting the lives of others? When someone says ‘Thank you’ how do you know if they mean it? Why do people get married if they know they’re not going to be happy? Why isn’t love fair?
Of course, we have philosophers, poets, creative types. What are stars? Why are humans in charge of the world? Why can birds fly, but humans can’t? Why is there sickness? Why be bored when you can create? What does it mean to dream? Be honest, as an adult, don’t you want to just hang with these kids and talk? Wouldn’t you like to have a conversation with a 13 year old who’s thinking this way instead of talking about sports or politics or fashion? I do.
Some I worry about. I hope that they’re OK. I wish their questions weren’t anonymous.
Why is it so easy to disappear?
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