Once upon a time, in a world where asking the right questions at the wrong time could get you into trouble, a young girl named Jessica Marsh was questioning her parents about why bears have hair under their arms. If it was to keep the bear warm, she reasoned, then why would they need hair in a place that was always warm to start with? When her mother answered in a frustrated tone that she didn’t really know, Jessica took out her little red book and jotted down the question in one column and ticked the column beside it which has the heading “Discover” printed in bold at the top of the page. The column to the right of it was titled “Know” and, thankfully, it had the most ticks in it because Jessica was on a mission to answer every question that could ever be asked.
Her quest began one day while shopping with her father at the grocery store. He had moved down the aisle with the trolley while Jessica found herself staring at the great variety of bread on display for people to buy. She became lost in her own thoughts, wondering what would happen if there was only a single style of bread for sale and if the world would be better off, or worse off, as a result.
She decided to ask an elderly gentleman who was purchasing a six-pack of hotdog buns why he was buying the buns, and why he didn’t choose just ordinary bread to wrap the sausages in. Her father swiftly interrupted, apologised to the man on Jessica’s behalf and explained that she wasn’t allowed to ask those sorts of questions to strangers. Although her father’s actions were intended to bring an abrupt end to the situation, all they managed to do was leave Jessica’s question go answered. The question may not have been important to her father, but it was undoubtedly important to her. The feeling of leaving a question go answered invaded her thoughts like an itch she couldn’t scratch. In an attempt to control this feeling, Jessica found the little red book she had tucked away in her cupboard several months ago, titled it The Little Book of Questions and, since then, used it as a place to write down every question she could think of.
The questions started off quite basic, but, the more time Jessica dedicated to asking questions, the more she found that she really didn’t know all that much about the world at all.
Why do bedrooms often only have four walls?
How could two people call the same thing two different names?
How come light can fill a room but not a jar?
What are eyelashes for?
Deciding that it would be an injustice not to spend her life asking questions while seeking more information about the fascinating world around her, Jessica concluded that, if there were a finite number of words, then there must be a finite number of questions we could ask as well. So why not ask them all?
This newfound curiosity, however, put her teachers in a challenging position. On the one hand, they thoroughly enjoyed it when Jessica participated in the lesson, but, on the other hand, they found it frustrating when she asked questions too frequently. “Well,” Jessica would say, “How many questions am I allowed to ask?” When her teachers told her they couldn’t put a number on it and that she should just to try and ‘read’ the situation, she would get her Little Book of Questions out and put another tick under the “Discover” heading for that particular question. Everyone had always told her that school was a place to learn everything she needed to know but she was also told not to ask too many questions. The more questions Jessica asked, the more confused Jessica became about the world around her.
Having not been back to the grocery store since she had asked the elderly gentleman about his hot dog buns, Jessica was shocked that her father asked her one afternoon if she would like to join him to go shopping. She reluctantly accepted the invitation (if for no other reason than to answer the question on page thirteen of her book, Who decides the price of chocolate?) and, once they arrived, Jessica started walking up and down the aisles while her father placed groceries in the trolley, patiently answering as many of Jessica’s questions as he could.
He continued ticking items off of his own list while Jessica ticked the columns beside her questions. When they arrived at the aisle with the bread, Jessica asked her father if she could stay and watch the people here for a little while. He hesitantly agreed on the condition that she didn’t ask any questions to the strangers around her. Jessica promised she wouldn’t, and, after watching people place all manner of bread and rolls in their trolleys, it occurred to her that she may have been asking the wrong questions all along. The people she watched did not spend much time questioning their decisions and maybe that was her secret to contentment.
Jessica took out her little red book and wrote a new question down: Is it OK to not know everything? She smiled to herself before placing a tick in the “know” column and running off to catch up with her father.
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