Civility And Integrity

Spring is less than a week away.   It may take a while for the throes of winter to cease, but soon….. soon!!  Daylight Savings time pleases me although it takes a while to adjust.   I’m still a little zombie-ish in the morning, but I am cheered and I get more done with increased light later in the day.  Neither Freckles nor the cats are impressed however.  They want their meals and outings to go on as usual and they are quite good at making clear to their humans how they feel about this time change nonsense.

We are now in the season of Lent — a time of soul-searching and contemplation for Christians.  Shrove Tuesday, the day prior to Ash Wednesday, is known as: Pancake Day/ Doughnut Day/ Mardi Gras/ and Fat Tuesday, depending on where you live.  Back when there were more than the two of us, I would try to make my Grandpa Dusett’s doughnuts for that day.  However, Kerm and I would end up with acute indigestion if we tried to eat all the yummy cakes that recipe produces.  Maybe next year we should have a Doughnut Day Party!! Traditionally Shrove Tuesday is the last day for indulging in goodies until Easter. Many people give up their favorite foods for Lent.   I sort of think there are kinds of “giving” that might be more useful than giving up a particular food but perhaps simply experiencing sacrifice is good for our souls.  In reality, our time is probably our most valuable commodity, so spending it in ways we don’t ordinarily, might be more in line with the idea of Lenten sacrifices.   I think that sacrifices made in the spirit of love probably have more impact than those made because of custom or out of duty.        

To aid us in our contemplative times, each Wednesday until Holy Week there are community Lenten services; there is one next Wednesday at noon, and then three evening services at 7:00.  It is always a good and inspiring occasion when the congregations in the community join themselves together in one spirit.  My personal Lenten observance, this year, is to make my way through Richard Foster’s “Streams of Living Water” – a commentary of theology and church history.  It is interesting but needs to be read in small chunks for reflection.

And now a curiosity for pondering —- twice this winter there has been an effort to schedule an open community meeting where people of varying political persuasions could share their thoughts civilly, around a table.  And twice it has had to be postponed; once for a snow storm and once for extreme cold.   Even the weather seems to be against civility.  Many grieve the lack of polite, thoughtful conversation, and are appalled at the coarseness of language and petty personal attacks that seem to currently be the norm.  While I do think we have lowered our “what is acceptable to say” standards, it is also true that politics has often brought out the worst in people.  Just read the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis) to see how early foul plays for power begin.  And then check out “Hamilton” the popular, still-running musicale.  Within this tale, duels, dirty tricks and injured feelings abound (as well as high ideals and great music).   

There is no advantage (according to me! ☺) to defending one’s political leanings (or any other leanings) with vitriol.  If my truth insults the truth of others it is not likely to win friends or converts.  Simple statements of fact and humor are fine; barbed attacks are quite different.  Very few people change their minds because of someone’s ranting, and there is usually no desire for reciprocal listening; only a determination to expound one’s own thoughts in a proselytizing way.  This is not to deny being strongly opinionated; I surely am!   I’m quite good at gnashing my teeth and speaking bluntly — at home.  But for me, on a scale of one to ten, politics might achieve a 2 or 3.  My basic premise is that after informing myself and doing what I can to influence my elected officials, then “This too shall pass”* — and if it doesn’t, I’ll assume that some good will eventually emerge even from the bad times.  

I was told that in the early 1800s, part of the Dusett clan (my mother’s family) moved from New York to Michigan —- over political differences among various parts of the family.  I can’t imagine letting such a temporal thing separate me from family or friends.  Must be they weren’t having cookies and tea together often enough!  My current extended family members continue to have quite diverse political leanings, so that hasn’t changed, but when we gather together, we simply find other things to talk about; things that bring us closer instead of creating cracks and crevasses.  Perhaps we all need to remember Ben Franklin’s terse statement: “A man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he{she} holds are true and all he{she} rejects are false.”**    

Tomorrow is the Ides of March — ostensibly the date upon which Julius Caesar was assassinated.   One son and daughter-in-law were married on that date so their anniversary is an easy one to remember.  Having been a high school Latin scholar, I warned them about Caesar, but they went ahead anyway ☺ —- which just proves some old adages have no foundation at all.   Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day when much of our country suddenly becomes Irish.   In days before ecological concerns, on March 17th, Cornell’s Beebe Lake lapped green waters along its shores, and a very combustible green dragon slithered across campus only to be consumed by its own fire.  In these enlightened days, I am sure the lake remains its usual color; I don’t know about the dragon.  But the beer still flows green from many a tap, there are bag-pipe led parades, some of us bake Irish tea cake and there is certainly considerable wearin’ of the green across the land.  

These fun celebrations may serve as an antidote to the anxiety that fills the lives of many.  Doctors say it isn’t the stress that does us in; it is how we deal with stress.  We need more faith, fun and joy in our lives!  The threat has changed slightly from the saber-tooth tiger lurking near our cave to that of someone hacking into our Email and credit cards, but stress is stress.  The clamor, speed and continual changes of our current culture make it very hard to be meditative, peaceful or thoughtful.  Rachel Naomi Remen says: “After twenty years of working with people with cancer, I have come to realize how much stress is caused by the sad fact that many of us believe in one way and live in quite another.  Stress may be more a matter of personal integrity………… determined by the distance between our authentic values and how we live our lives.”*** 

We need to consider this as we complain about jangled nerves, sleeplessness and exhaustion.  Perhaps as part of our medical treatment, we should be trying to discern whether or not our integrity is healthy — right along with blood pressure, respiration and glucose tolerance.   Are we living in a way that our principles remain unscathed?  There is seldom the “perfect” job and sometimes following your dream just isn’t possible.   But there can be satisfying things about jobs and there can be avocations outside of the job that make up for a less than ideal way to earn one’s keep.  One person I know who worked a traditional nine-to-five day, took some acres of land and created beautiful and historically-interesting destination gardens at home.  They are visited by many.  He probably excelled at his day job, but his after work creations were stellar, and obviously gave him pleasure too.

Suffering both an unhappy job situation and a lack of creative outlet at home would weaken anyone’s immune system.  It is often a matter of perspective, like the three laborers at a construction site.  One grumbled that he was carrying load after load of bricks, one sighed that he was cementing the bricks all day and the third, with light in his eyes, said he was building a cathedral.  How we view work and play is a measure of our integrity perimeters.  And meanwhile, the more lightness and goodness we can enjoy whether it is being Irish for a day, reading a little Shakespeare via Julius Caesar or just looking forward to that first snowdrop popping up in the garden, will surely aid in keeping us healthier.

We all are really anticipating SPRING!!  “…..Like an army defeated the snow hath retreated, and now doth fare ill on the top of the bare hill….” is a line from a William Wordsworth**** poem about the month of March.  More sunlight, more greening of the trees and more warmth is what we all crave at this point.  

Carol may be reached at:  

*Found inscribed on a Persian king’s ring.

**Benjamin Franklin — 1706-1790.  American author, political theorist, civic activist, diplomat, Founding Father.

*** Rachel Naomi Remen, Professor at Osher Center of Integrative Medicine, San Francisco, California.  My Grandfather’s Blessings and Kitchen Table Wisdom.

**** William Wordsworth — 1770-1850.  English romance poet.  This poem is “Written In March”.  

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