Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Answer

What do you get when you multiply six times nine?
May 11, 2001, the day Douglas Adams died

When I was 12 years old, a Mormon missionary gave me a book that would change my life forever. No, I’m not talking about The Book of Mormon; I’m talking about Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Thanks to this book, I always travel with a towel. I generally don’t panic. And I know that it’s okay that I can never quite get the hang of Thursdays (I really can’t).

I just turned 42 (thank you for asking!), and already I have a feeling it’s going to be a bang-up year. For those of you who haven’t read Adams’s four-book trilogy, 42 is The Answer to the Ultimate Question, the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. This is my year to be the Answer.

Only it turns out that no one really knows what that pesky question is.

And that’s okay. I don’t know what the question is either, and I don’t want to know. Who am I, why am I here, and where am I going? Not particularly interesting to me anymore. More interesting: where shall we hike? What shall we drink? And where shall we go for lunch?

The day after my birthday, The New Yorker published Andrew Solomon’s intense, compassionate interview with Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza’s father. In light of my viral December 14, 2012 blog post, Time.com asked me to write a response. It seemed like all the major news outlets focused on a few sensational quotes (shocking!), which I feel were taken out of context. Take Yahoo News, for example: "Conn. shooter's dad: 'You can't get any more evil." 

I focused instead on Peter Lanza’s inability to find answers, on how a “normal weird kid” who was loved by both parents became a killer. Because that’s what life is like when you have a child with mental illness. There are no easy answers.

This is the year I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with my ambiguities, in my 15-pounds-too-heavy body. My children aren’t little anymore. We’ve left Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer behind, trading them for Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica. We still like the Lego movie, but in that “ironic/cool we are way too old for it” sort of way.

This is the year I’m finally not afraid to say what I think. Guns on Idaho college campuses? It’s an expensive, moronic example of unwarranted government intrusion. Gay marriage? Though I pride myself on trying to see all sides of an issue, I really cannot understand a single argument against it. Mental illness? Sometimes we have to talk about violence, even when we don’t want to.

Douglas Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49 while working out in a Santa Barbara gym. The day he died, I took my two boys, then ages two and four, to the Santa Barbara zoo where I took the picture above.  That picture, my boy and a gorilla, still brings me to tears. I don’t know what it means, or what questions it answers. But I do know that I never want to feel like Peter Lanza did. I never want to wish my children had never been born. I never want these pictures to disappear, or this narrative we've shared so far to lose its meaning.

For a writer, 42 is young. When I was 22, I thought I was a great writer, but what can a 22 year old know? The truth is that I know so much less now, but I am so much more compassionate and accepting. So if you need a towel, let me know. Mine’s big enough for two.


Concerned in CA said...

Today is the first day that I've let my voice be heard. After NBC's Today show hosts made some statements on Monday morning, I could not contain myself any longer. I too have "special needs children" but would NEVER accept that either of them "should never have been born." I can understand the depth of Peter Lanza's grief and know that his statements came from a dark and hopeless place but for media hosts to repeat, agree and make blatant statements confirming that Adam should never have been born, has outraged me. I've sent my first ever letter to a media organization. Wish I could "cc" you (and if you have interest, I would be happy to share it). Thanks for speaking up for so many children and families! It is appreciated!

William Kenny said...

I love reading you when you make me smile (and sometimes guffaw) and when you make me stop and think (though that is so often painful). Thanks for being who you are, doing what you do.