Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.
Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye.
Only afterward do I recognize the symptoms. Even now I am in the throes of this same human phenomenon: A moment of “getting” something, when a layer of film is peeled from our eyes and we see the world more clearly, if only by a fraction. It’s both thrilling and disconcerting. I recently learned that our democracy is not an irrefutable, indestructible fact but rather a fragile construction requiring vigilant defense, support, and construction. I, too, threw a temper tantrum. I’d rather go back to my old way of seeing. I’d rather not suffer the consequences (my increased responsibility) of this new understanding. But once we’re seeing more clearly, going back to old ways means unhealthy denial. Best to throw a fit and move on.
Emily wrangled braids into Gwyn’s hair and we got out the door onto bikes, where I coached her on I, V, X, L, and C, the system of subtracting lower letters that precede higher ones, and two blocks down she had it, if she wanted she could write one through a hundred herself, and she was happy as a clam. We did Roman numeral math problems the rest of the way. I’m glad for the reminder that learning of any kind is a way we come into consciousness. It’s how we’re changed, how we grow, and how we come more alive, which is also how I understand God’s movement in us. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, Gwyn was late for school. But no other human work is more important, I believe, and if we can get through the tantrum there’s complex delight on the other side. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.:
March 10: Holy Resistance
April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again
Do you live in Waukesha or Marinette? I’ll discuss incarnation, Christianity, and bisexuality at noon on April 5th at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha and at noon on April 6th at the University of Wisconsin–Marinette. Please join me!
SAVE THE DATES:
October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.