The Hardest Question

The Hardest Question

By Jim Rambo


cartoon-of-dad-and-babyForty three years ago you didn’t ask to know the sex of your soon-to-be-born child. No, back then the mystery of it all was enough. To paint the room pink or blue….and the matching carpet. Who cared? It was sufficient that my wife and I were happily expecting an addition in our old home, a revolutionary era farmhouse that was also a work in progress of a different kind.

On June 3, 1971 my son, Jason, was born. We were among the first to name our son “Jason” at the time and were later surprised by the name’s growing popularity. It had been a difficult labor for my wife and so Jason was delivered with a head looking like it had been squeezed out of a toothpaste tube. His face was beet red but we loved him anyway!

As a year and then two passed, and my son’s head became rounded, it became clear that he was a gifted little guy. His mother had him reading at the age of two and I recall that one of his favorites was the “Babar, The Elephant” series. Because of his reading skills, Jason spoke in complete sentences and his appetite for information was insatiable. Being of nearly average intelligence myself, it was daunting to consider how many of my son’s future questions would go unanswered by me. I would soon learn that my concerns were legitimate.

One bright autumn afternoon, we were having a tree removed from our front yard. The tree had slowly died and become a nuisance, difficult to mow around and constantly dropping dry, brown twigs into the grass. Jason was standing on the living room sofa, looking through a window at the workmen sawing off limbs. I came up from behind him to check on the workmen’s progress for myself. I was holding onto his waist to keep his head from hitting the window as he bounced up and down….like all two year olds. Jason was asking about the demise of the tree but then, in a quick turn in our conversation, he asked me if all people die, like trees.

Without overly thinking through his question, I quickly answered, “Yes.” And then, in a moment iced in my consciousness, my son, the child who had brightened my life immeasurably, turned slowly around to face me, no longer jumping. His innocent blue eyes looked up directly into mine. The freshness of his morning bath was in the surrounding air as these words tumbled from his mouth, slowly but thoughtfully. “Daddy, am I going to die too?”

My body stiffened as the full impact of his question hit home. A two year old considering his own mortality as I, the thirty-two year old, with thoughts racing wildly and incoherently, sought out the right answer; the answer that wouldn’t disappoint or hurt. I knew a simple “yes” wouldn’t do for my precocious youngster. And neither would procrastination, the perennial parental punt against the winds of honesty and truth. And then suddenly, somehow bordering on the miraculous, I was blessed with an answer that was maybe true, maybe not. I breathed deeply and answered, “Yes, Jason, you are going to die one day…but it will probably be one hundred years from now. And you know that’s nearly forever.”

His eyes brightened with understanding and a quiet satisfaction with my tortured reply. He turned back around to face the window again as a tree branch came crashing onto the grass. I slapped him lightly on the back side and ambled toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I craved a shot of liquor but was already fairly numbed by the realization that although I was a lawyer in training at the time, I had never been asked a more difficult question by anyone.

Jason visited with my wife Linda and me recently during a trip to the U.S. During that wonderful get together, I told him the story of his probing, problematical question. He was amused at his own two year old’s curiosity but, not surprisingly, he had another question for me. “Dad, why is it that you remembered this very brief incident that happened so long ago and told me about it today?”

“Because,” I told him, “after a thirty-five year career in and out of court, facing judges, juries, and others with an interest in the justice system, your question remains, undoubtedly the toughest I ever had to answer!

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