Rhetorical question fit for current times

One of my friends from college used to post questions on a little dry-erase board on the outside of his freshman dorm room door. He wrote the questions for fun - and to see how we would answer them when we walked by. The questions ranged from random to ridiculous, philosophical to funny.

One question he posted was: "If you were stuck in a vat of snot and someone threw poo at you, would you duck?"

I was usually too busy laughing to answer back on his board, but his question seems weirdly suitable right now given the circumstances of our pandemic/racial conflict/political battle-filled start to the 2020 school year. I feel stuck in a situation where decision-making lacks winning options - don't you? I keep looking for a magic shield but I can't find one.

In the absence of magic, what's the answer to the question? What do we do in the face of a snot-poo moment in life?

Some days, I employ dark humor to lighten the weight. In these moments, I laugh sardonically with friends about the "Quarantine 15" or the big cardboard box I wish I had in my backyard to hideout in. I'd write "Mom's Alone Box" and "Keep out!" on it in big letters. On this kind of day, I might answer the snot-poo question with something silly or sarcastic, like,

"No, I wouldn't duck. I'd ask my friends to turn on some tunes and have a snot/poo dance party," or ...

"No, I'd close my eyes and imagine it's raining scoops of ice cream instead of poo. I'd think about how lucky I am."

On other days, political rhetoric, COVID-19 deaths and news of another African-American man shot in the back make me want to cry. I feel the stress of these at-home days - waiting, worrying, mourning, venting, yearning - and in the middle all this darkness I feel guilty, too, for all we have that others do not.

On these very hard days, my answers to my friend's question would be imploring, something like,

"Wear a protective mask, keep moving forward and try hard to help clean up this mess," or ...

Ask the poo thrower, "How can we repair things between us? Maybe a reformed poo thrower can help me get out of the vat?" or ...

"If there's a good time to pray, it's now."

To the friend who asked funny and challenging questions on his dry-erase board, thank you for being the spark to laugh and to talk to each other freshman year when everything felt new and uncharted. In uncertain times, what else can we do but connect with the people around us in thoughtful ways to create something lasting and good together?

- Carol Wittemann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers

can email her at

[email protected].