Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Research, Mosquitos, and Change

In one of our first few days in our new apartment on this side of the Atlantic, we went for a hike through the nearby forest to end up at Nara Park in Acton, MA. En route, Tyler was fascinated by mosquitos.

"They suck people's blood?"




"Why do they suck people's blood?"

"Well, because it's part of their purpose--what they do."



Tyler was quiet for a while as he swatted the suckers and veered off the trail to be certain to step on every medium-to-large rock anywhere in the vicinity. Then he stopped, looked up at us, and asked, "But why are they in life?"

"That's a great question, son. A great question. I'm not really sure."

And so we continued our walk, Tyler swatting the air around his face repeatedly and trying to prevent as many of the blood-suckers as he possibly could from sucking his particular blood. This was all strange and new because, well, there is no such thing as mosquitos in England. When we first moved over there three years ago, we learned that there is also no such thing as screens on the windows of homes. If it's warm, you open your window. No mosquitos get in because, yup, they don't exist there.

After we stayed at the playground at the end of the hiking trail--yes! a playground at the end of a hiking path! and a pond! and massive rocks! enough to make weary travelers and transitioners hearts' sing!--we made the venture back and Tyler found a spider as he lay on the forest floor and watched stuff. (We were tired and, hey, the forest floor is a pretty fascinating place.)

We watched the beautiful stuff on the forest floor for a while, but Tyler's question about the mosquitos kept bugging me. So, we decided we'd do some research at the Acton Memorial Library (where we'd acquired our library cards a couple days prior; library cards--the words reverberate with incredible beauty and joy).

Lee, the librarian, helped us look through loads of insect and bug books, but we never quite learned exactly why they are in life. We did learn, however, that dragonflies eat mosquitos.

"I love dragonflies!" Tyler exclaimed. Hey, so did I at that moment, as I gazed at the tiny lumps all over my arms and legs.

But later, after we were walking back to our apartment from the apartment complex's pool area, Tyler looked up and said, "Well, I think I still LOVE dragonflies, but I also like mosquitos a little bit."

"Really? You like mosquitos son?"


"Why?" I asked.

"Because, they are living creatures too, Dad."

Maybe it was the graphic pictorials of the neon blue dragon fly devouring the head of the mosquito that made Tyler feel a little back for the blood-suckers. Maybe it was something else.

Maybe it was some kind of deep insight that, hey, even though we can't see the good some other creature does, it doesn't remove all value. Maybe not.

But that night, after Tyler had drifted off to sleep and Jennifer and I stood looking at an army of boxes defiantly gathered in our apartment taunting us to try and unpack them at some egregiously late hour, something clicked. It was this: the point of research isn't to come up with one definitely right answer. The point of research is to learn to view things differently--maybe just a little differently at first.

To view one's neighbor a bit differently. One's community. One's self.

And that's the point of any adventure--big or small--too. We start off with a question that we can't figure out. So we have a go at trying out answers, taking ourselves outside of the normal spaces we traverse to see if new connections emerge. We seldom return with answers to specific questions. (And most of the time we return with, in fact, more questions.)

But I think there's a greater peace with the questions. I think, maybe, we start to travel more by wonder and less by knowing. Each time we research in this way--with our lives and with our minds and with our questions rather than our answers--I think we feel our way across hiking trails that are no less buggy, but are a lot more complex, beautiful, and mysterious.

In that sense, I'd rather learn to like mosquitos a little than to figure out their purpose for existence. And if all the research I ever do--both on paper and with my life--ends up yielding more questions than answers, I think I'm okay with that. (As long as there are people to talk about those questions with!)