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Life as performance art

Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

Early in their career writers learn that readers expect answers to five questions: who, what, where, when and why. The first four are easy. Who did it? What happened? When and where did it take place? How and why did it happen? Remember Detective Sgt. Joe Friday, of the TV show “Dragnet,” wanting “Just the facts”?

“Why?” is always the challenge. Sometimes it is easy, as in “why did the fire happen?” and we get a logical, scientific answer. But often the answers to “Why?” are more difficult to find.

Digging back into my memory files of spending too much time in front of our Philco black-and-white television brought “The Prisoner,” a British thriller, to mind. It was a surrealistic adventure of retired spies who were kidnapped and exiled to a remote island from which they could never escape. It was a nice enough place and most were content to stay there. But one of them, Number 6, often tried to escape.

In one segment the head high honcho of the village introduced Number 6 to a super computer (complete with punch cards) that was supposed to know everything. No question was unanswerable, he was told. Invited to try to beat the computer, Number 6 typed his question. In minutes the computer was overheating, smoke billowed out and it died in agony.

The question: “Why?”

Children are full of Why Questions ranging from why the sky is blue to why a beloved friend or relative died. Some of us plagued our parents with them, and the least satisfactory answer was, “because, that’s why,” soon to be followed with “because I said so, that’s why!”

There are a lot of Why Questions in our adult lives and most are a Gordian Knot. That seems to be true whether they are the big philosophical questions of life or trying to figure out another person’s behavior. We want answers but they are often in short supply, not satisfactory, and we are uncomfortable living in the ambiguity and confusion.

When we look at many of the news articles in The Commercial Record we find classic examples. Why can’t Douglas and Saugatuck work together to resolve the police issue? Why the constant battle over maintaining our harbors? Why the war of words and shattered friendships over so many other local issues?

It doesn’t take long to come up with a long list of questions beginning with these words. Sometimes there just don’t seem to be answers.

The reality is some why questions can never be answered. The best we can do is take a different tack and explore the How Question. How can we make this better and more acceptable to as many people as possible.