THE THEORY OF ‘WHY’? / Risako Itokawa

         “You’re going where?” was the first question they asked. After a brief geography lesson, everybody would nod hesitantly, unconvinced. They would then utter the second, rather offensive question; “Why?”

This wasn’t the first aggravating “Why?” I’ve been confronted with. People have asked me why I eat gummies after every meal. I always carry around my own water bottle, to which I’ve encountered countless “Whys?” I organize the clothes inside of my wardrobe according to their color and design; “Why?” I use different handkerchiefs depending on the season; “Why?” I have a weird obsession with jellyfish; “Why?” I’m surrounded by all these “Whys?”, when I’ve honestly never even considered it. I try to find an adequate answer with a confused smile plastered clumsily on my face; all the while I’m trying not to blurt out a “Why?” myself.

I understand the “Where?”, but not the “Why?” I can relate to the fact that some people had better things to do during history class than to locate Sicily on the map stuck on the back of their textbooks. When it comes to the “Why?” part though, I’m at a loss. Why wouldn’t I choose Sicily as an R&R destination? If I’d said “I’m going to Rome!” I would’ve been met with enthusiastic “Wows!”, maybe a few “Where’s Rome, again?”, but most likely not a single “Why?” Why? Because Rome is such a popular tourist destination that the question is superfluous. When you think of Rome, you think Roman Holiday, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Michelangelo. When you think Sicily…I can almost hear the gears in people’s brains creaking in confusion at this enigmatic word. Sicily…creeaak…what’s in Sicily…olives…? Nobody could fathom why I wanted to waste a good chunk of my two-month summer vacation to visit an island where the main attractions were, in their minds, olives and lemons.

I think back to the time we decided on Sicily.

“Let’s go to Italy!”

“How about Sicily?”

“Sure! August or September?”

This was the official conversation that lead us on a six-day trip to the idyllic island. Honestly, I can’t answer why we chose Sicily, because we had no reason. We knew we wanted an adventure, yes, but the decision was more out of instinct than a concrete plan.

A professor once told me that truth comes from speed. If you wonder where you want to go, and spend hours Googling popular locations, it’s most likely a choice out of a desperation to leave your current predicament. On the other hand, if you intuitively choose a destination that randomly pops into your head and hardly spend any time planning where to visit and what to see, that’s more liable to be your heart’s desire. With speed comes truth. My summer trip to Sicily was certainly a speedy decision. On the island where few guidebooks have room to introduce, we explored the fresh sensation of being the only two Asians within a ten-mile radius but still holding a unique English vs Italian conversation with the locals, of visiting the world of The Godfather, and of reveling in a simple walk down the block. We marveled at how shop clerks and restaurant waiters would nonchalantly come to chat about Japan, quizzing us about Japanese anime and the difference between Tokyo and Kyoto. I couldn’t quite grasp how guidebooks never had any space for Sicily. This island was a sprawl of cathedrals, squares, and world heritage designated architecture; there should be a regulation that all guidebooks must have at least a thousand words on Sicily, with just as many photos. Who would have the audacity to ask “Why?” after they’ve seen this firsthand? I wondered to myself. Why would anyone want to question this paradise?

From a young age, we’re taught that everything happens for a reason. Whether it’s to encourage people who are in distress or to convince ourselves that everything will be alright in an otherwise hopeless situation, we believe that every little incident is brought on by some unknown, cosmic force. People generally like clean explanations for others’ words and actions, and are ensnared by an obsession for reason. Every word, every action must have a nice, satisfactory explanation, otherwise their orderly minds refuse to accept it. They want an explanation when they see a middle-aged man buying a pair of pretty pink princess slippers. The shopkeepers would probably gossip in the employee’s room, speculating what he wants with glittery foot garments. The answer is probably something simple, such as “I’m trying to bribe my daughter into talking to me again.” or, “I’m trying to fix my horrible posture.” Whatever the reason, the employees would probably not end the discussion until they come up with some epic reasoning for the man’s “suspicious” behavior. What they won’t do—besides conclude that the man has a foot fetish—is say “Well I’m glad we sold at least one pair of princess slippers,” and go about their ordinary tasks.

Walking down the Sicilian streets lined with Baroque-styled buildings, it gradually dawned on me that when something out of the ordinary occurs, people question it. Sicily was not the typical tourism location, especially not for two university students. Who’s seen The Godfather trilogy at the age of twenty-one these days? It was an interesting revelation, people questioning the abnormal. We feel a sense of security around familiarity. So much so that we unconsciously position our personal “norms” as the universal standard. This habit of grilling people with “Whys?” just because they find something unorthodox has eroded the fresh, revitalizing feeling of acting without reason.

“Why?” can be useful in your everyday classroom, but sometimes it’s just a myth. Sometimes, there’s no such thing as “Why?” No reason, no logic. Just a tugging sensation somewhere at the bottom of your stomach, urging you to take that route. Acting on that feeling is much more productive than answering all these “Whys?” bouncing around, so let’s just say that if someone else comes along asking “Why?” my answer would be a resounding, “Just because.”

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