A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY CATHERINE O’CONNOR
The world is so overwhelming I often wonder why we question. In fact, that first statement perfectly captures my frustration. There seems to be no way to stop wondering, yet no way to answer the questions that trouble you. That is to say, all questions stem from a few that cannot be answered: Why am I here? What created the universe? What existed before the universe? And so on.
This dilemma often becomes apparent during my class “socratic seminars”, where a group of students will gather to answer questions (that the students wrote) concerning a certain assigned topic. Often, these questions are classified as level one, two, or three, with the third level being the deepest and most difficult to respond to. From the surface, this appears to be an effective strategy to tackle the problems of the world: the combined intelligence of the group should be utilized to reach satisfactory conclusions. In reality, we circle around the deepest, most pressing questions, as we grapple with the “level two” questions.
One gloomy, slow morning in my sophomore year of high school, I sat in my AP US History class, waiting my turn to discuss free speech on college campuses. One student in the inner circle of speakers asked the question, “How do we protect everyone and make everyone happy at the same time when it comes to being allowed to say what they want?” There was a groggy pause in the conversation, as my classmates struggled to answer such a difficult question on the spot. As someone who was not allowed to speak at this point in the discussion, I was afforded the space to think without pressure. Alas, the question was unanswerable. There is no way to attain total happiness through political means. There will always be a struggle against the current system, as very few people are ever content.
What, then, what is the point of these discussions? What is the point of trying to work through the overwhelming paradoxes of life? Even those quandaries that appear simpler, more relevant, or practical, often reflect the questions that are much more challenging than expected. The questions I yearn to have solved are consistently those that have no answer at all. Coming to this realization often leaves me feeling helpless, as though there may not be a point to school at all. After all, why ask questions when you can’t find answers?
And yet, I clearly still have questions. I’ve also come to realize that the process of questioning is part of human nature. There may be no rhyme or reason to it in reality, but part of what makes humans unique is our ability to use our imagination. Not every question can be answered, and the truth of the matter is, we often simply make the answers up. Through the process of crafting this essay, through listening to my peers in class discussions, through studying philosophy, through living life as a human being, I’ve learned that each person will come to their own personal answer to the questions that probe them most. The point of questioning is rarely to find the answers that you want to know, but to feed your sense of curiosity.
I go to school, I ask questions, I wonder, all because I need to. If I don’t, I haven’t an idea how I would survive. I wouldn’t be human. I question because that is who I am, it is what I want to do. I question because the pursuit of knowledge is one of immense gratification, bringing meaning and structure to a complex world.
Catherine O’Connor is 16 years old and lives in Beaverton, Oregon where she attends Westview High School. She wrote this essay for school and believes it encapsulates the struggle that we all face in dealing with life’s unanswerable questions.