Sippican Cottage relates the tale of how the answer to life, the universe, and everything came to be discovered:
Excuse me, did you say “42”? Because 42 is so last week. I have discovered the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and it’s a lot more useful and comprehensible than 42.
My wife was accosted in the supermarket parking lot by some ill-mannered brigands, otherwise known as female high school students. Don’t get me wrong; people are more mannerly and friendly in Maine than in other places I have known. But there are many interactions between persons that have been bent by circumstance.
My wife is very quiet and reserved. She smiles a lot, but she doesn’t talk very much. I have always depended on her steadiness, because I am mercurial. I wonder if there is anyone in this world who has anything bad to say about her, other than she chooses husbands in lighting not suitable for buying off-brand bales of hay. Anyway, she was caught somewhat unawares, and didn’t have a moment to parse what she said carefully for its effect. She just asked, more or less politely, “Why would I want to do that?”
They backed up like people who had opened a mummy’s tomb and heard Egyptian being spoken. It was as unanswerable as a tax bill.
Don’t you see? Can’t you see it? It’s the answer to everything. It’s the Swiss army knife of life, with the little can-opener dongle on it, except instead of opening cans it opens universes. If everyone would answer 99 percent of the questions put to them every day with, “Why would I want to do that?”, the world would be a better place. Not just for the questioner. All manner of mischief would fold up and die and I wouldn’t get messages from Nigerian princelings anymore because every offer to send a million dollars tax-free would be met with, “Why would I want to do that?”
I recognized it like a lost friend. It’s the phrase I’ve been thinking but not saying, morning, noon and night, for years on end, whenever anyone asks me anything about anything. It is my default position for everything, I’ve just never uttered it.Why would I want to do that?
But (and there’s always a “but”) … it fails the test of one critical question.