At the very outset of the American democratic experiment, Alexis de Tocqueville warned us about an ironic effect he could already perceive in our attempt to make "freedom" and atomic individualism the prevailing mode of social organization in our new society. He pointed out that these qualities have a centrifugal trajectory that made them dangerous as organizing principles for a society — a social grouping, a community of people.
And so, he said, though Americans do not see this and will not admit it, as an outsider to your culture here's what I see: ironically, you have already created hidden, unacknowledged norms which demand that all of you "free" individuals behave according to certain centripetal canons of social expectation. The very centrifugality of your emphasis on freedom and individualism requires you to try to corral people, to force people to dance to an unacknowledged tune that represents the "normal." As a society, de Tocqueville noted, you Americans are far more coercive, far more demanding of certain kinds of social conformity, than many of the traditional societies against which you're rebelling in the name of freedom and invidualism.
I'm not a good dancer. I grew up in a faraway outpost of mainstream American culture that has no reason to pretend it's normal, since it can't do so. It's the very definition of ec-centric. And so, this Sunday, when I'm weary to the marrow of my bones of church talk, of church people and their hidden, never acknowledged agendas, their tunes imposed on everyone's life even as they talk about "freedom" (and a communitarianism they belie in their treatment of outsiders), I'm going to share with you some nuggets from my Facebook page this week.
Which have nothing at all to do with church and church people:
1. I hated like the dickens to give up my ophthalmologist. I've known her since she was a medical student, and she's the best around — and a super-admirable human being to boot. But since I now have access to good health insurance, it makes sense to go with doctors covered by my network, and she's not one of them.
The new ophthalmologist, whom I saw this week, has already begun — a tiny bit — to heal the ache in my heart over losing my previous doctor. As she talks to me in the exam room, she says, "You just turned 66? You're aging very well!" To which I reply with a laugh, and then say, "But it's dark in this room!"
Flattery will get you everywhere.
2. End of week weight-loss report: I'm now down 20 pounds, with 4 to go to reach the goal I set for myself on 1 February.
3. One of my stories for you all. Sometimes these just pop into my head, and I think I need to write them down, because otherwise they'll be forever lost. And so a Sunday-morning story for you:
My aunt Helen, my father's sister, recounted this one to me. She had gone to visit my grandparents, her parents, when they were in their 80s. Over the course of her visit, my grandmother sat Helen down and read a letter to her, fishing it our of the shoebox in her closet in which she kept her letters, carefully folded and stacked.
This one was from my grandmother's girlhood friend Miss Maudie C., with whom she had grown up at Coushatta, Louisiana. Miss Maudie was married to Mr. C. and they had a son Paul who lived with them. Paul was an adult in body but not quite an adult in his mind — hence the decision to keep Paul at home with them through his adult life.
In the letter, Miss Maudie told my grandmother that Paulie had recently told his parents he was going to walk downtown. Once he left the house, Mr. C. turned to Mrs. C. and said, "Maudie, with Paulie gone, reckon we might try it?" Miss Maudie allowed as how she could imagine trying it, even though she and Mr. C. were far advanced in age.
So they went into Miss Maudie's bedroom and commenced to prepare to try it. But long before they could move to the "it" stage, Paul returned home and began yoo-hooing at the bedroom door, whereupon both the commencing and the trying ceased.
All this was in the letter Miss Maudie sent to my grandmother, which she read to my Aunt Helen. Then she folded the letter up carefully, shook it in the direction of Helen, and said to her, "Ooooh, goodness gracious, Sister! We must not ever let your daddy find this letter!
It might give him ideas."
And then the letter went back into the shoebox.
4. (Well, this one does contain church talk): Proving the truth of the old adage, "It's always Mama's baby but Daddy's maybe," Tom Sykes writes,
The most senior churchman in Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury, who is the head of the Church of England, has made a dramatic announcement that his biological father was not the alcoholic whiskey salesman to whom his mother was married, as he had long believed, but the debonair and aristocratic last private secretary of Winston Churchill.
Don't forget, though: the Anglican Communion is determined to defend the sanctity of traditional marriage against the folks who are — so they say — undermining its traditional one man, one woman, for life sanctity: the gays. Have to keep the gays in their places, lest they destroy traditional marriage and undermine its sanctity.
The photo: a shot of azaleas blooming over a birdbath in our front garden this past week. I share all these glimpses with you to share something of the real, lived human life that is underneath everything I write here — for what that is worth. A good Sunday to all of you!