“WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU DONE?” This is one of the great Mother Questions. The second great question mothers ask is the theological one: “WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD ARE YOU DOING?” Another Mother Question anticipates the future: “AND WHAT WILL YOU THINK OF NEXT?” (My father rolled all these questions into one—only the tone changed: “WHAT THE HELL . . . ?”) Children know these questions have no reasonable answers. Any child who has half a brain will go mute or mumble, “Nothing. Nothing.” Or resort to pity-invoking sobs that plead innocence, ignorance, and helplessness: “I don’t know (snork) I don’t know (snork) . . .” And the child is telling the truth. Most of the time a kid doesn’t think about what he’s doing, or why. This is the privilege of childhood………
…….Now, at a distance from childhood and parenting, I begin to understand that these Great Mother Questions are, in fact, profound. They are the great Life Questions. Questions of accountability…..
…….Muttering under my breath after yet another screw up, I echo both my mother and father: “What on earth have I done . . . what the hell . . . ?” When asked of one’s self in a calmer spirit, this line of inquiry makes sense, provokes thought, and even puts my feet back on the right path. For example:
“Well, just what on earth have you done?” After all these years—what? I think it’s useful to inquire of myself about the quality of my existence and my contribution to the commonweal. Never mind what I set out to do. What have I done? What’s my record as a citizen of Earth?
Likewise, “What, in the name of God, am I doing?” queries my actions on behalf of all that I say I believe and hold sacred.
And, finally, the question with ongoing relevance: “What will I think of next?” is a way of asking if my mind is a stagnant cesspool of worn-out notions or if I am mentally active—still replacing archaic information with fresh and better ideas? Am I still thinking—still asking—still learning?
What On Earth Have I Done?: Stories, Observations, and Affirmations