It struck me as strange. “Why wouldn’t she want to know?” I wondered. “What possible reason could there be for not wanting to know something so basic?” So, I asked. What she said was simple and honest. How could it not be? She went the long way around, but she eventually said it. She said “I don’t know and I don’t want to know.” I would. If I were in her shoes, and her black jeans and her short black hair, I would want to know. I would want to know details, dates, names and places. I would want to know everything I could about how my mom, the only one I’ve ever had, the one who pushed me out of her womb and held me in her arms, died. I would want to know what Alexa didn’t.
The conversation leading up to this crescendo started a few moments earlier with the order of my coffee. After ignoring a Starbucks on the corner (I don’t care for their coffee) and walking out of Zephyr Coffee House and Art Gallery empty handed; though they have a cool name, they were out of coffee and they charged more than their advertised price, I left. Into Plate 38 I walked. It’s a bar but I was told by a helpful patron in a nearby cigar shop where I stopped along the way that they serve coffee. I walked up to the waitress and that’s where it began. Alexa greeted me, took my order, walked to the far side of the bar where the coffee was made and came back with a smile and small talk while we waited. She mentioned something about her father and how he is but she didn’t mention her mother, so I did. “Oh…well…” her hesitance hung in the air “she was…” The word she used was “was”. Past tense. She said it in such a way as to indicate her mother no longer “is”. Instead, her mother “was”.
Alexa isn’t any older than 25 so I decided it was doubtful either parent was old enough to die of natural causes. “Was?” I echoed back before continuing “I’m sorry. What happened?” I was expecting “car accident”, “plane crash”, something commonly uncommon. Alexa didn’t say that. Instead, she said something more startling. She said “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” I repeated back to her, half expecting I had misunderstood. I doubted her answer was intentional. It was. Alexa talked and talked but she didn’t say much. She danced around my question as if I weren’t there to witness it. She talked in her own head without ever seeming to reach a conclusion. The gist of it, I understood. In her own way and in her own words she said “I don’t know and I don’t want to know.” My coffee, the reason behind my arrival at this bar, seemed to disappear into the brown stain of wood in the wall behind her. I wasn’t thirsty. I wasn’t tired and I wasn’t disappointed with Zephyr’s questionable service any longer. Now I was curious.
Alexa, behind her freckles and her awkward smile, didn’t want to know anything other than how she was going to spend her tips that night. Me? I’d want to know more and by the end of this piece, I think I know why.
“Could it be age? Life experience? Denial? All of the above?” I’m sure it was a mixture of many but I don’t know and I was left to guess. I was left to construct my own explanation for why I, if I were she, wouldn’t want to know details of my mother’s death. What I settled on was simple…pain. I decided I wouldn’t want to risk the discomfort of more unanswered questions or the uncleanliness of the unkempt. I wouldn’t want ashes strewn around and cast about. Though I personally don’t like unfinished business, unresolved issues and unanswered questions, it doesn’t mean Alexa doesn’t. I’m the one who likes things in their place, neatly tucked away and tidy. I like them to stay there until I say otherwise, and I don’t ever say otherwise. Or do I?
This is an easy claim for me to make but it’s at least partially untrue. The truth is, even in the middle of the calm, I look for the storm. I chase tornados. I fly kites with dangling metal keys hoping to catch lightning. I look under rocks and when I don’t see worms, I drag my fingers through the moist, dark earth digging for snails, creepy crawleys and colorful critters of all kinds. The fact of the matter is this, I want to know what I want to know and I don’t want to know what I don’t want to know. I want to play by my rules. I want things my way and in that way, perhaps Alexa and I aren’t much different.
Where we do seem to differ is in what dirt we choose to dig. I doubt Alexa wants to feel what most people don’t. She, like many people I know, probably doesn’t want to feel pain. Instead, she probably wants to leave well enough alone and let sleeping dogs lie. What I want to look at is why I don’t.
I don’t have to look very far. My first sponsor was fond of telling me to “run toward the bullets.” Instead of doing everything I can to avoid pain, I should seek it out because in so doing, I let go and grow. See, pain for me isn’t so much caused by embracing the new, as it is resisting letting go of the old.
A helpful analogy for me is that of a rose garden. If plants were people I doubt they’d enjoy being pruned. However, from what I hear, roses grow that much better and live that much longer when they are clipped and seasonally cut back. So too, I function that much better when I’m tested, tried and pushed, because I learn to persevere. Just as gardeners want beautiful and better rose bushes, I think God wants a beautiful (read “useful”) and better version of me. So, after decades of avoiding pain, I now seek it out. I want to transform from the seed and sapling I was to the oak of a man God intends me to be.
This brings me back to Alexa. Why doesn’t she want to know how her mom died? Probably for the same reason I do.