My book club recently read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by Jamie Ford. As a child in World War II Seattle, the main character is forced to wear a button declaring “I’m Chinese,” to differentiate himself from the enemy Japanese.
One of our members asked, “If you had to wear a button, what would it say?” What word or two would define who you are?
We answered around the table. The first person said “Irish,” the second “Dutch.” Things took a more philosophical turn when people answered “optimism” and “I’m here now.”
I pondered how to identify myself: “I’m an American.” “I’m a Texan.” That draws too many borders between me and others. “I’m a human being.” Too limiting. I declared: “I’m a spiritual being.” I changed my answer, though. “My button has a question mark.”
Questions have defined my life. As a curious child, I badgered my parents, asking about everything. As a journalist, I’ve spent my adult life asking questions of strangers, sometimes questions I have no business learning the answers to, personal information that nobody should reveal except to their spouse. You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize they aren’t required to answer.
All along, I’ve had more questions than answers about the nature of existence. Of the journalistic five W’s and the H (who, what, when, where, why and how), I’ve usually thought “why” was the most interesting.
And now, I’m curious. What would your button say?