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Child's inquiry is hard to answer

"What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?" my 5-year-old daughter asked me, out of the blue.

Wow. The intensity of her question floored me for a minute. This is an inquisitive kid who thinks about the questions she asks, and who hangs on each word of every answer. (Scary, yes!) Her question was so simple and innocent, yet at the same time, so profound.

Hmmm, the worst thing that ever happened to me. I thought about it hard, as this sweet little girl -- clearly one of the best things that has ever happened to me -- stared at me intently, patiently awaiting my answer.

I've had a great life, but still, some bad things have happened. The worst? Was it when I was a little girl myself, and my dog was hit by a car and killed during the week of Christmas? That is the first time I remember seeing my father cry, and would definitely be up there on the list.

Maybe it was when I was just out of college, and that great guy I was dating -- "the one," I had thought -- bolted without saying goodbye?

Or when my grandmother passed away? She had been so special to me. Her house and heart were such a part of my life that when I left for college, my dog continued to make the six-block trek to her house without me, until my grandparents eventually adopted her.

Was it as an adult, when I was horribly betrayed by someone I trusted and loved? Or when my mother suffered a stroke during a routine surgery, and woke up as a different person?

My father's death was unbearable. I never thought I could adjust, but I have. Life goes on; it just isn't the same.

Gosh. How to answer this question. And who asks these kind of questions, anyway, I wondered. I didn't know I had given birth to a philosopher. Or worse, a nosy little girl!

And she's only in kindergarten! Shouldn't she be asking, "What's the best thing that ever happened to you?"

That would be fun to answer, and the options would go on forever. I have so many great memories to pull from! How about that spectacular semester spent overseas? Or is it the fact that I have many close friends -- each one a life-saver to me? Maybe it is the feeling I get from knowing that I have actually made a difference in the lives of some people who needed and appreciated my help. Or the fact that I am healthy and loved. Some athletic victories come to mind. Summer days spent with cousins at the lake -- how can you beat that?

But I guess that question would be too easy. She already knows my answer; being blessed with her and her brothers is definitely the best thing that ever happened to me. Those blue eyes are still staring at me. I realize that I haven't actually said a word aloud. So I give her the best answer I can come up with.

"The worst thing that ever happened to me was when I realized that hearts can break," I say. Then I say a quick prayer that her heart won't ever break. But I know better. She's human. Heartbreak is all part of the game. So I pray that all the good in her life will make the heartbreak tolerable, and that she will be well-equipped to handle any curves that life throws her way. And that she will understand that life isn't always easy, but it is always worth it.

And then I pray that tomorrow, she asks me what my favorite color is.

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