Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Everybody knows practically everything already. Ignorance boils down to a matter of details -- the big picture is easy. It's not that we don't know, but that we don't care.

When my son was a very little boy, probably four, we were out shopping, and when we got back into the car he showed me a packet of gum and proudly said, "Look at what I have. And I didn't even have to pay for it!" And I said -- I still remember my tone, so earnest, emphatic, so innocent -- "Oh N, that's called stealing!" And I went back into the store and paid for it. Ho ho, look what my little boy walked out with. Oops. When I returned, he was sobbing into his hands with shame. I took him onto my lap and hugged him, like he was the most valuable thing in the world.

In lessons like these, we learn the big picture.

But somehow, some people don't get it. Maybe they weren't hugged. Maybe at such times their father's tone didn't rise from the heart, but from anger. How dare you fail! In any case, some people skim across the surface of an idea, taking its outline for its substance. They hear some superficial idea, and ask no questions of it. A liberal would say this of a conservative. A conservative would say this of a liberal. The truth does not lie somewhere in between. In some issues there is no compromise, no moderation, no splitting the difference.

To function in the world, we make our peace with injustice. The alternative is to take justice into our own hands, and that generally proves to be an unworkable solution. But we must do what we can, however slight that may be, to reverse the race toward heat death, to shatter the crystallization of atoms that a universe unmotivated by God must otherwise achieve. And part of that process is to remember the necessary lessons we learned as little children.

Remembrance comes with reminding. So I feel no discomfort -- or very little -- in sometimes acting the school marm. Because I get something out of it too. Every once in a while I get to take someone into my long arms and hug them as if I loved them with all my heart. Or at least I am reminded of such times, long past now, and that has a sweetness of its own.


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