“Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,
are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables
with tales of their nine lives.
Well, they are lucky. Let them be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.”
- Alastair Reid
My apologies to the dog lovers in advance. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they’re also the butt of today’s metaphor. I challenge a future reflection writer to redeem dogs in our imagination, but since today we speak of curiosity, it seems fitting today to speak of cats.
The lines of verse above come from Alastair Reid’s poem “Curiosity,” which begins by half-conceding the old cliché that curiosity “may have” killed the cat, but then suggests that the cat was either just unlucky or curious about death as a method of escaping a predictable life. Sounds dark, but Reid, intentionally or not, goes on to set up curiosity as a path to the Paschal Mystery, as the lines I opened with show. And how does curiosity kill? By killing ideas, or at least our need to depend on the ideas that have gotten us this far—as Reid describes,
what is always said, what seems
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
leave home, smell rats, have hunches.
Put that way, curiosity sounds relentless by nature.
Frankie Jones reminded us that relentless curiosity is looking at the world “with wonder and awe for our Creator,” and John Schoenig reminded us that relentless curiosity “must call us to find in one another what God sees.” We know that the wonder God wishes us to see usually doesn’t throw itself at us, road-to-Damascus style; we must seek it, like Zacchaeus climbing the tree to steal a sight of the one who calls us to “die again and again, each time with no less pain.” Climbing that tree was certainly an odd way for Zacchaeus to ask the question, “Who is this Jesus?” We could even call it a sort of death, as no one would look at this tax collector the same way again after seeing him teetering in the sycamore branches like a cat.
So, relentless curiosity should drive us up trees in search of answers that dismantle our old, often cherished ways of seeing the world. Maybe that’s why kids often show curiosity better than adults—they haven’t begun to cherish any one way of seeing the world. We all seek meaning, but kids are less likely than adults to have clung to one kind of meaning, one kind of narrative about the world yet. Instead, they see so many new things and then ask the questions that will help them make sense of it all, and we as Catholic educators try to give them the answers and—more importantly—the next questions to ask that will lead them to truth we can see from any tree, Christ.
Yet, if we’re to teach relentless curiosity, we’d better remain curious to discover the wonder that God wishes us to see in each other.
My ninth-grade English class remains weirdly curious for kids their age; at my high school, I’m used to students holding questions in because they’re afraid to look like they don’t know something. These freshmen, though, they have questions about all kinds of things—especially about me. “Mr. Carriere, what’s your favorite kind of food?” “What video games do you play?” “Have you ever ridden a horse?” And those questions are fun enough to answer, but I wish we could set aside a daily class for us educators to ask the kids these same questions about them.
Of course, we can find ways to use the academic disciplines to show our students how curious we are to know them. I try this in class, but these ninth graders, relentless as they are, turn the questions right back at me: “What do you think makes a work of art?” “What’s a nonfiction narrative you’ve written?” “What does success in life look like to you?”
This got me thinking…the first place kids look for truth isn’t in logic, isn’t in reasoning, isn’t in textbooks or dictionaries or the internet (especially not the internet); they look for it in people. So we, as models for our students, need to show them that this search is worth continuing for their whole lives, ourselves continuing to seek the truth that others bear and wish to share. May we, along with our students, ask the odd questions, distrust the predictable—sin and separation being eminently predictable—and be curious enough to pay the cat price, to contradict our past life with the faith that shows us, better than our all too well-known yesterdays did, how to love.