In the wake of tragedy, the hardest question to answer is ‘Why?’


As a child, I was always in search of answers. I was curious about the world around me and my favorite word was probably “why.”

Aware of my inquisitive nature, my mom bought me a series of books titled “Tell Me Why: Answers to Hundreds of Questions Children Ask.” I recently flipped through the books, which are now sitting on the bookshelf in Madelyn’s nursery, and saw dozens of questions popping off the pages.

Who invented the pencil?

What caused the Tower of Pisa to lean?

When did people start cutting their hair?

Where did dolls originate?

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

How can a snake move without legs?

I loved finding answers in books as a child. But there came a time when I realized that my mom and dad didn’t have all the answers, and that some questions will always remain answerless. Why? is no doubt the hardest question to answer, especially in the wake of tragedies like the terror attacks in Paris.

I try to live in the present, but I often think ahead to the future, anticipating what’s to come. I wonder how I’ll answer the tougher questions Madelyn will ask me — about why people die and where they go after, whether the world ends, why people with different colored skin don’t always get along, why people would want to hurt one another.

Sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know.”

What I do know is that most people in this world are inherently good — a message I’ll try to relay to Madelyn. I hope to teach her about the the everyday people who commit small unnoticed acts of kindness, not violence. I know I won’t be able to shield her from tragedy and trauma, but I’ll teach her what it means to develop strength in the face of weakness, to become resilient in the aftermath of hardships.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, I’m reminded of a Mr. Rogers quote I’ve always loved:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Someday, I’ll read Madelyn this quote and will encourage her to look for the helpers in the world. They’re there, I’ll tell her, even if it feels like they’re sometimes playing hide and go seek. And even though I won’t be able to answer all her questions, I’ll let her know that mom and dad will always do their very best to make her feel loved, to keep her safe.


Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

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