It’s now come and gone. Convocation. It was everything I thought it would be and absolutely nothing I thought it would be. More than anything, it was intensely emotional. I chose to travel into the ceremony by myself that morning on the train. It was a good decision because it gave me a few moments, without worrying about arrangements or other people’s experiences, to just be in the moment. I read notes, texts, and emails from my friends and colleagues who so thoughtfully remembered that it was my big day. I felt surrounded by a host of support while having the quiet to reflect on what a journey it has been. I thought about the people who have come and gone in my life throughout the process. I thought about stubbornness (mine and others’). I realized once again how glad I am that life has curves in its road. I felt immensely ready for that walk across the stage.
But it was the bagpipes that were my undoing. As soon as I heard the first note sound, I became a broken water works. And that continued throughout the whole ceremony – including during my short but momentous walk across the stage. The tears found me again at lunch, then afterward in the quiet of my bedroom as I lay down in exhaustion for an afternoon nap. As Greg and I walked along the lake that evening, a few more tears sneaked out. And still they found me again this morning as I worked in my garden, remembering what sacrifices it took and how rich the reward is now.
Yesterday I joined a tradition nearly two centuries old. It was moving and inspiring (the ceremony….not the speeches!) and fitting. But how thrilled I was to come home to my family at the end and know that the four of us earned this degree together.
McGill Graduation, circa 1930
A few weeks ago, I had the unexpected opportunity to check out a health care facility south of the border. While I was being treated at the incredibly beautiful Sarasota Memorial Hospital, I got a little glimpse of another way of life. I began to understand why socialized medicine scares certain (insured or very wealthy) Americans. With the exception of the excruciating pain of appendicitis, the whole experience was a bit like being at a resort.
Several hours into my stay, through the fog of pain killers and fatigue, a woman’s voice entered my consciousness. She was very animated and passionate about what she was saying and that caught my attention. She wanted to explain why she was unhappy to be forced to live in a tolerant society. She felt persecuted by what she identified as the Left’s agenda to create a tolerant society where she was being forced to accept immoral and sinful behaviour – homosexuality, abortion, big government, socialized medicine, evolution being taught in schools and the list went on. How, she asked, could she live with herself if she tolerated such abominations? She understood the Biblical command to Love Your Neighbour but she said no where in the Bible did it say to accept sin or immorality. A tolerant society, she emphasized, was an unChristian idea and last time she checked, America was a Christian nation.
I admit that I was kinda woozy and therefore it took me a while to figure out exactly whose voice it was and where it was coming from. Mounted on the wall in my room (did I mention actual walls in my private room in the emergency department?!?!) was a flat screen television. At first I didn’t pay much attention to it, (refer to previously mentioned appendicitis pain) but eventually I noticed that the TV was tuned into Fox News. By the time the IV pain meds were in full effect and I was apparently saying some crazy stuff, it was then that her words reached me. (It would take a few more hours of getting over the awe of the television to question whether or not there was a remote control and other channels I could watch!) And those words seemed to embed themselves into my brain. I kept turning them over and trying to figure out what they meant.
I’m not new to this kind of discussion. I grew up in an incredibly conservative religious community. I know the rhetoric inside and out. But something about those exact words wouldn’t lie easy with me. A tolerant nation is unchristian. Something rang true for me. I realized that though I disagreed with all her reasons, I found myself agreeing with that idea. A tolerant nation is unchristian.
I tolerate the fact that my neighbour loves to go for motorcycle rides at 6 a.m. on a summery Saturday morning. I tolerate that sometimes my train runs late. I tolerate the seemingly endless months of winter here in Montreal. But what does that mean? Tolerate isn’t exactly the highest level of showing love to your neighbour. Doesn’t tolerating something essentially mean that you accept or endure someone or something you find unpleasant with a certain measure of forbearance? It feels to me like the absolute lowest level of living in community with someone. It feels more like – I think you suck but I’ll let you be because that’s just the kind of person I am. If we are talking about Christianity (and she was), then I think we need to look no further than Jesus’s own actions. He didn’t tolerate the prostitutes, lepers, invalids, Samaritans, widows, etc. He sat with them. He touched them. He healed them. He loved them. He threw old laws out the window because humans had lost the essence of their meaning. He preached a new system. One that he summarized as Love God and Love Your Neighbour. Tolerance doesn’t feel like it fits with Jesus’ lifestyle. And he’s not a bad example to follow here. Beyond tolerating I want to respect, love, support, and live in healthy community with my neighbour. Not because I’m some feel-good Leftie with an agenda (I am also that, by the way – I admit openly to endorsing a Leftist “agenda”) but because I think we can do far better than merely tolerating our neighbours. Even those who rev their obscenely loud motorbikes outside my bedroom window as dawn breaks. Can’t we find something bigger and deeper than mere tolerance?
Greg tells me this is a dated conversation, that we’ve moved on from tolerant to inclusive to any number of other adjectives to describe our Western societies. And I don’t buy the idea of a “Christian” nation any more than the rest of it. (Even the Founding Fathers embraced the separation of church and state…!) but apparently the discussion is not over every where. And I’m glad I heard it that night in the hospital because it reminded me that I can do better, that I can love my neighbour with greater respect, that I can believe that maybe someday we’ll all do better. So yeah, Ms. Fox-Newsworthy-Person, I agree, the idea of a tolerant nation is unChristian.