S C I E N C E & S P I R I T
An Earring Catechesis and a Call to Prayer
It is such a small thing--not the earrings themselves, of course, which sometimes seem to want to reach to mid-torso or to slice through flesh well beyond the small circular opening assigned them. I speak about the custom of wearing them in unmatched pairs, unorthodox color coordinations, deliberate asymmetric arrangements, or in numbers indivisible by two.
When young adults do so, the assumption is that one beholds the usual and expected statement of rebellious defiance (our facile and mantric reading of just about everything Generation *** does). When matrons of grandmotherly age begin to accessorize in similar fashion, however, one stops to consider alternative possibilities of meaning. A regressive longing for a forever-lost youth in the throes of menopausal metamorphosis? The possibility of glaucoma or other vision-altering eye complaint? A hitherto unexpressed rage over a potentially endless litany of disappointments or perceived betrayals?
I have found myself questioning a dear friend as if the "behavior" both needed and deserved a defense, an explanation, or a friendly intervention. She has graciously and tolerantly laughed and pooh-poohed all my attempts at traditional ethnography or amateur psychotherapy. "I like it"-- an answer that has not only provided no deeper insight, but has also failed, I realized in the midst of sorting laundry this morning, to reform a practice I found disquieting at some foundational level within me. It was in the midst of accepting the inevitability of a growing colony of mis-matched ("widow") socks that I suddenly queried myself about my friend's earrings. What is it in me that demands that matched sets be the perfect paradigm of relationship when almost nothing in the natural world around me, especially in the nakedness of winter, reveals the assumed perfection of a photographic image and its exact negative copy? The trees I love most are those that are the most visibly asymmetrical. The landscaping I most admire is that which represents wilderness--clumps of daffodils rather than neatly lined up rows of tulips like children seated in nineteenth-century classrooms. The partnerships--friends, colleagues, lovers--I imagine healthiest are where there is a mutuality that grows out of a marvelous complementarity. Each brings to the enterprise of shared project or life-sharing something that, as D.H. Lawrence would have said, completes the rainbow. There is more to the association than two parallel or intersecting lines.
As I go about a host of other experiences this day, I know that the lesson of the earrings will bring everything else into sharp focus. I'm not sure I'll yet be sporting one of the many widowed singles that appear in an earring community almost as easily as socks and their proscribed mates move into free agency, but I know this is somehow going to translate into bigger areas of my life.
For all the intellectual rhetoric about "difference" and "diversity," maybe this is the morning when such ideas infiltrate into the tiny domestic corners where such notions take the deepest root and, as any keeper of a Kosher kitchen knows, germinate from the tiniest possible seed. Maybe I want to take another look at Plato's Phaedrus and rethink my expectation of alliances: is it the one who agrees with me who is the only one likely to lead me to a place of growth? Is it growth I am seeking as much as the comfort of affirmation? What about that articulation of ideas that offers what my notions leave unaccounted for? Or the parts of my own soul, without apparent mates, that lay dormant as unmatched solo songs, relegated to whatever drawer most of us hide those"widows" in? Is that a drawer or a box of grace waiting to set me free from the definitions I've imposed on myself (or others)? Is the Holy Spirit coming to me this morning in a complex dance of uncommon connections and links--socks, earrings, literature, philosophy?
I could create miles of such questions. Perhaps these are enough with which to begin. They propel me with a power I can no longer withstand into wordless, contemplative quiet.
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