The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Waxing Philosophical

“Vulnerable we are, like an infant.
We need each other’s care
Or we will

Those are the words of Catherine of Sienna, 1347 – 1380, and they are such a favorite of mine that I always kept them posted at my desk when I was working—just to remind me why I was there. And I believe them with my whole heart—we do need each other. I know I wrote before about “belonging to each other”, and I think that is both true and worth repeating. Truth is, I think that this is so simple, so basic, that I can’t quite comprehend why so many people don’t seem to understand it. The world today is a frequently scary place—like a dark and depthless woods—and it seems so obvious to me that we should be sticking together and holding hands.

This is entirely different from “tolerance,” that word that is bandied about by politicians and teachers and who knows who else and it’s supposed to be progressive and liberal and to me it sounds like a pitifully tiny effort. I “tolerate” the spiders on my back porch because they keep coming back and there isn’t much I can do about them. But people? Listen, I may not agree with or understand everyone I meet, but I value them. I know that the composition of this world, this life, is dependent upon different viewpoints and different thoughts and different dreams. I heard someone say recently that they were “tolerant of gays” and I was offended where I think I was supposed to be impressed. I have a beloved friend who is gay, and I don’t “tolerate” him. I think the world is a richer place because he and his partner are in it—they are smart, funny, endlessly kind. And yes, they are gay, and yes, I love that about them, too. Not “tolerate”. Love.

You may wonder what caused me to haul out this particular soapbox today (out of my seemingly endless closet of soapboxes); oddly, it started in my psychology class, where a classmate expressed her opinions about evolution by stating baldly that “it’s a bunch of baloney and everyone knows it.” I don’t think less of her for her opinion, whether or not I agree. In truth, I am profoundly grateful that she has found the beliefs that give her peace, and that she lives in a country where no one has the legal right to tell her not to. But the way she said it—that “I am right and all other opinions are foolish” attitude—struck me badly. Her words were what we as kids called “fightin’ words” in that they don’t inspire conversation, debate, exploration, sharing—they inspire defensiveness in the listener. They invite quarrel. They suggest that two differing ideas cannot coexist peacefully. And in a time where suffering and death of people who do not believe as they are “supposed to” is simply standard fare on the evening news, I’m not sure we can afford to be so smug in our beliefs, so certain of our lone rightness.

It’s like family, I think. Because no matter how screwed up, no matter how dysfunctional or weird or whatever, they’re still family, right? We go home and decide not to talk to Dad about politics and love him while we disagree. Or we have a different spiritual belief than Mom, but we let that go because it doesn’t hurt us to respect her beliefs and it doesn’t take away from ours and, well, we love her. Couldn’t we do that all the time instead of just at Thanksgiving dinner? My neighbor once sent LDS missionaries to my house. I have nothing whatsoever against the Mormon faith, but I do have my own deeply held spiritual beliefs. I could have chosen to be offended, to assume that she disrespected my beliefs, whatever. I could have. But I think that she did it because she cares about me and because she wants to share something that has so much meaning to her. From that perspective, it’s a gift, even if it isn’t one that fits all that well. So I thanked the people that came to my door, and I was gracious and I let it go. Our society could do with a little more letting go. And a lot less isolation, both in our persons and in our beliefs. It is only from a place of isolation that we are able to say without doubt that none are right but us, and to disregard the sensibilities of those folks who peacefully believe otherwise.

My classmate is young, and idealistic. I think life will help fill in the grays where she is currently nurturing the black and the white. But still, I can’t help cringing when I hear it. I can’t help wanting to tell her “Please, take my hand. The forest is beyond big; it is filled with all manner of shadow, and no end of twists and turns—but we can get through it together. To tell the truth, I don’t believe there is any other way that we will.”


  • At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Childe said…

    "I think life will help fill in the grays where she is currently nurturing the black and the white."

    Beautifully said.
    As usual.

  • At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Marianne said…

    Beautifully thought out, beautifully written.

    “Please, take my hand. The forest is beyond big; it is filled with all manner of shadow, and no end of twists and turns—but we can get through it together. To tell the truth, I don’t believe there is any other way that we will.”

    Darling, I just love that, and here's my hand, now who will take my other hand?

  • At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Paula O'Neal said…

    Amen, dear Lady, and amen again. You have written beautifully what we all can put to good use. Namaste. Paula in Iowa

  • At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't have the way with words that you have been blessed with but your post today is spine tingling. I can't sing your praises enough really, and its such a pleasure to keep reading.

  • At 9:27 AM, Blogger Charity said…

    Hey you and Martina are all about the wax today!

    I love the way you express yourself, Ms. K. Very nicely done!

  • At 10:15 AM, Anonymous angie cox said…

    Wonderful post.I cringed about even thinking of "tolerating" my gay friend or anyone just tolerating us as a mixed race couple.Sadly when I first started courting two "friends" said they couldn't tolerate Jeff in their house.I was so shocked I had never realised they were so bigoted.My Catholic friend's parents constantly begged me to become one as they really believed I would go to purgatory.

  • At 10:23 AM, Blogger Ms. Knitingale said…

    I shouldn't be shocked...but Angie, it breaks my heart to think of anyone saying they couldn't tolerate Jeff in their house. And as for purgatory, don't worry. To hear some of those folks tell it, it won't be lonely because we'll all be there. You rock, Angie. Don't let anyone tell you any different.

  • At 12:18 PM, Anonymous angie cox said…

    Just spotted your answer ..I did say that to Basia's parents at the time. In a nice way that they must not worry as I will be surrounded by friends ,not just Protestants but atheists,agnostics ,Hindus etc . They meant well but aside from some racism our town has a huge multi-faith community who please God will continue to live happily side by side.


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