In Praise of Good Questions
‘Is that’s what’s deepest in you soul?’ she asked, glancing across to me.
I was in the car with Mary* on the way home from church. Mary is living with dementia, and since being told by her doctor she is no longer allowed to drive, I often pick her up for church then drop her home afterwards. I’m happy to help.
When I started giving Mary lifts, we didn’t really know each other, and had only spoken a couple of times. Over the months, I have come to enjoy our time in the car together. I’m not sure she knows who I am from one week to the next, this smiling, bespectacled person, who turns up in a yellow car with the offer of a lift, but she always seems happy to see me.
Once settled in the car, Mary asks how I am, and about the kind of week I’ve had. It could be small talk, but it doesn’t feel like that. The kind of dementia Mary has means that her short term memory is quite limited, so rather than asking about what she has done during the week, I ask her what she thinks about certain things, and I often ask for advice. She protests that she isn’t the best person to be asking, but usually follows up with some pearl of wisdom or consideration about a situation that hadn’t occurred to me. Rather than making specific suggestions, Mary often reflects with a series of questions. During our car journeys together, she asks me questions about my work, studies, finances and relationships.
Today on the way home we were talking about where we felt at home, and various places we have lived. I talked about a number of chapters in my life that I have spent in London, and without realising it I must have became more animated. Mary asked why I’d moved back to Brighton, and if I had any plans to return to London. I said I might, if the right opportunity ever arose, and that was when she asked, ‘Is that what’s deepest in your soul? To return to London?’ Gosh, that took me by surprise. What clarity and insight her questions offered. Without taking a moment to think about it I replied, ‘I’d move back in a heartbeat’. I wonder if I would. Either way, I now feel more tuned in to the possibility.
How many people ask about the depths of our soul and where we feel most at home, while caring enough to listen to the answer? On one level Mary doesn’t know who I am, but on another level she knows me better than most, because in the moment she asks, she is truly present.
(Reflection written in November 2018)