A crazy quilt of love
November 11, 2016
About 20 years ago, in one of those sweet bits of serendipity, three nuns leased the house across the cul-de-sac from me. We shared meals and books trips and gardening tips. They knew I wasn't Catholic, though there had been plenty of Catholics scattered in my family. I knew they were readers and walkers and great cooks. Their arrival came within months of the end of my greatest heartbreak and two years before I was deathly ill. Sister Margo was almost a generation older and clearly the alpha nun.
One day I came home from work and Margo was on her deck, under the porch umbrella, sipping a Manhattan. I wandered over and immediately saw how sad she was. I asked her if she wanted company and she let me sit. She told me her day had been hard — she had spent it with the mother of a teenage boy who was in a coma from a skateboard accident. He was expected to die soon. I thought I understood immediately how sad that was and said something dumb and conciliatory. As was her wont, Margo quickly cut me off. That wasn't why she was sad, she said. Although the situation was sad, it was the mother who had made her sad.
The mother had been inconsolable and Margo had asked what she could do. The woman had told her it was too late because she had been a terrible mother and her son was going to hell. Margo was shocked and asked why she would think her sweet son would go to hell. The mother said she had never had him baptized in the church. Margo had spent the afternoon explaining to the woman that no loving God would condemn an innocent child to hell because of some manmade technicality. Margo made it pretty clear there were only two ways to view God — as a loving, caring being or as an angry, fear-mongering creature.
I have to say that afternoon kinda redefined and refined my idea of nuns and Catholics … and God.
And now we've landed here, in a country you could say was divided by political dogma, male versus female, color blinded, college educated or not, left or right, all the labels pundits toss out in news cycles. And I am thinking about that afternoon again in the sun, with a whip-smart, tough-as-nails nun who was crying because she tried to comfort someone who thought an angry God was about to send her son to spend eternity in hell.
We are Here, in place called Despair, not Hope. What divides us — more than how we govern — is how we love. If we measure out our kindnesses to those we deem worthy or clean or "just like us," we've missed the point. We are either all God's children, or none of us are.
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In a movement started after Brexit, when so many were so fearful in their country, a group of women started a quiet movement by wearing safety pins on their clothes. It meant if you felt unsafe for any reason you could sit next to a safety-pin person on the subway or the trolley or at the table in the coffee shop. I just saw yesterday that the movement has crossed The Pond and folks here are placing safety pins on their lapels or T-shirts as a quiet way to say, "I will keep you safe here, in this moment." This isn't about politics. It is about a solidarity of safety. It is about kindness.
In perhaps the single best use of Facebook, a secret group was formed about three week ago. I don't know who invited me in but at the time there were about 300,000 people there. The group was playfully called Pantsuit Nation and it started as place for women excited about the possibility of the first woman president to share their enthusiasm. Quickly it became stories of bravery and broken families from this political season. Of women who realized they would have to leave their marriages because they had tolerated hatred and contempt for years and they were now scared for their lives. Women in hijabs, Hispanic women knocking on doors in white neighborhoods to get out the vote. Black women. Gay men. And in the faux safeness of the Internet, confessionals of secret abortions from decades ago. We sent each other words of encouragement.
My Facebook feed has never been so filled with messages from one group.
On Election Day the site nearly crashed with all the uploaded photos of women wearing pantsuits to the voting polls. One of my favorites was a long line of folks cued up to vote in a line in a gym. Nothing looks unusual – until you notice the handsome guy in the jacket and jeans and ass-kicking red pumps.
I expected the day after the election to see some message on the closed site: "Thank you for participating. See you in four years." But something else happened. The site keeps growing — almost 4 million as of this writing. Subgroups have started — a Utah Chapter and a Park City one. Coffees and cocktails are being shared within communities so women can do what women have always done (and their loving fathers, husbands, brothers and sons). We keep loving each other. Lifting each other up. Being a safe place to sit next to.
Yesterday a post showed up: "Never mind moving to Canada — I want to live in Pantsuit Nation!" And though it has been a virtual place, it can be a real one, too. This is about the very core of who we want to be, how we want to live our lives, and how we expect to share in governing. St.Francis had it right: "Let there peace on earth …and let it begin with me." It is where I want to live this Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.