Monday, December 12, 2011

The Unbearable Rightness of Being

I recently attended a sporting event. I was with a friend and we both noticed a guy sitting on a folding chair in a half lotus position. We looked at each other and laughed. She asked, "Why the half lotus?" It seemed so absurd, but maybe I was envious because I don't bend like that. I tried yoga a couple times and thought I was going to snap in half. Sit however you want, yoga boy.  

The half lotus triggered a train of thought that's been brewing for weeks. It began when we were invited to a dinner. Several guests were vegetarians and they kept talking about their vegetarianism during the meal. It made me want to keep asking loudly for more meat, which was a bit childish. 

It took a while to identify my extreme reaction. I finally realized that the vegetarians think they're better than meat eaters. They can't just sit quietly and eat the salad. They have to proselytize the whole time. They aren't satisfied with their own choice. They have to try to make others uncomfortable about theirs. The truth is, they're not better because they don't eat meat. Yes, there are health benefits to eating less meat. Yes, there are environmental advantages. That doesn't mean you are bad if you're a meat eater. A lifetime battling anemia has taught me that red meat can sometimes be my friend. And I choose not to think about how the animals were killed. 

It's like having an abortion or wearing furs. If you don't believe in abortions, then don't have one. Don't make it so nobody else can. You're not better than someone who has an abortion. You're really not. You just disagree. If you don't want to wear animal furs, don't wear them, but get your red paint away from mine. I don't actually have any furs, but the girls have inherited some from their grandmother. The animals are already dead. Who is it helping to NOT wear them?

I'm as guilty as anybody about being on the soap box and I've spent way too much time trying to prove my rightness and that's just plain wrong. Someone once said I'd rather be right than happy. That isn't exactly true, but it's been true too often. If I believe in something it's such a temptation to try to have others follow along. It reinforces my rightness. Being right is a small "win" and let's face it - life is one big competition. Isn't it? Sometimes I just believe in my ideas and I feel obligated to spread them. After all, my great-grandparents were educational missionaries. If my relatives weren't ministers, they were teachers. Pontificating is kind of in the blood.

By definition, life is humbling. I have changed my mind about some grand concepts. God. Husbands. We marry with such certainty. Divorce brings much with it - including a fear of our own choices. How is it possible that what once seemed perfect can become unbearable?  I've believed in God, been an Atheist and been deeply uncertain. They can't all be right. It makes you understand the problem of the Arabs and Israelis better, doesn't it? Some people are never in doubt, but frequently wrong. Try not to confuse me with the facts.     

Our county is full of Prius-driving, liberal Democrats. A lot of us don't choose formal religion. I know people here who won't readily admit they're Republican or religious or God forbid, religious Republicans. Now that's liberal thinking. Although this might not be a stellar time to be a Republican, (think Cain, Bachman, Gingrich), freedom of religious and political expression is one of our national values. It's why my ancestor Captain John Partridge immigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1650. Over three hundred years later we're still fighting to maintain our freedoms. We live in a society that allows our choices. So have your abortion, wear your furs and get a burger and eat it, too. Use your rights while you still have them. I'm going to be practicing my yoga poses.       

Monday, December 5, 2011

PC Christmas

I know what it’s like to be a minority. I was six years old, in l964, when my parents were divorced. It took me until fourth grade to meet someone who would admit that they had parents who were not together. I was also a Unitarian. Through third grade my school was all Jewish except for one Catholic and me. When I changed districts, moving farther from New York City, the students were all Catholic except for one Jew (my friend whose parents were also divorced) and me, the sole Unitarian.

I always thought of Unitarianism as the non-religion or the religion for non-believers. My father was the Unitarian Minister in the local congregation. He’d been recruited from Michigan to build a church and a following. The congregants built the church with sweat equity - though simple and utilitarian, it still stands. It’s a gathering place for those who want to set aside the time for reflection and contemplation of spiritual matters. To meditate and think and to be inspired by the sermon. Unitarianism is like Buddhism in that you can get through an entire program without wincing over a reference to crucifixion, sinning or salvation. There is no extremism - it’s all moderates acting in moderation.

There could have been a bit more formality. I spent my entire childhood in Sunday school and never once read the Bible. My lack of religious education is appalling, but my civic awareness was magnificent. We hosted lefties and folkies and marched for civil rights and peace. Pete Seeger sang at our church and we kids sat cross-legged on the floor, enraptured.

My father built a following all right - of women. Handsome and charming, the deep voice and easy demeanor got them every time. He was a gifted thinker and writer and would compose his sermons in his head, often while in the shower. After the service, during coffee hour, the women would crowd around and hang on his every word. His libido and outsized ego were perfectly matched for the position of minister. Hurrying off to “counsel” a distressed congregant was just part of the job.

We celebrated Christmas at school and at home. We sang “Dreidel, Dreidel” for the Jewish kids and Christmas Carols for the rest of us, but there wasn’t the politically correct, hypersensitivity that we have today. We did not do anything for Kwanza. I hadn’t even heard of it until my kids were in elementary school and Christmas started being eroded in favor of fairness. When I was young we were allowed to celebrate what we wanted without feeling we were taking from someone else. I didn’t expect anyone to make me feel comfortable because I was a Unitarian or a child of divorce. We didn’t whine about things like that. There wasn’t the sense of entitlement-that others should make our lives better or easier.

My three daughters have the same muddled religious pedigree that I had. Sisters from different misters, one daughter is half Polish Jew and half WASP mix, although I’d have to say that, despite her penchant for bagels and lox, my half adhered more firmly. She recently met a slew of her Jewish relatives and became more aware of her inner WASP. Her sisters are first generation American on their father’s side (he was born in Sweden) and twelfth generation on mine. I took them to the Methodist Church for a little while, but backed out when they wanted to baptize the two younger girls one Sunday. Bar and Bat Mitzvah envy took hold and the youngest one decided to be Jewish. We had to have a Latke party and light the Menorah. Well, first we had to buy the Menorah. Fun for a while and good exposure for her older sister, the actual, non-official half Jew. Now they all refuse to go to church of any sort, which is fine, but they do love Christmas.

For the past few years I’ve really missed having people say “Merry Christmas” to me. They’ve been trained not to - it’s “Happy Holidays” up one side and down the other. I’m tired of it. Even when I am most obviously celebrating Christmas, people can’t or won’t say it. There is such a fear of offending. We do so much in our daily lives that’s offensive, yet this withholding of Merry Christmas has stuck. We were at the tree lot, paying for a Christmas tree, and the cashier wished us a Happy Holiday. It kind of got to me. I mean, really, if the folks where you buy your tree are afraid to wish you a Merry Christmas, then who will? I felt a little agitated about it and said something to Eric. We waited while a nice kid took the tree to the car and tied it on top, chatting away. Then he did the most amazing thing. He wished us Merry Christmas, and that was even before Eric gave him the tip.

Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Originally posted in December 2009.