Friday, August 7, 2009

a lesson

My oldest daughter had been an officer for one of the Utah chapters of the Future Homemakers of America, and the state organization held its end-of-the-school-year banquet in Salt Lake City. I was going through all the usual hoopla politely but condescendingly. I was there to do my duty as a father, although I would have much preferred to be elsewhere. Chicken dinner for 750 accompanied by speeches and awards for a large group of fourteen-through-seventeen-year-olds was not my idea of a great way to spend my Saturday afternoon.

Sitting next to me at the table for parents was a couple about my age, both of whom were obviously enjoying what I was merely tolerating, from the food to the entertainment. When I asked where they were from, he replied, "Wayne County."

"Where in Wayne County?"

"Just Wayne County."

"How far away is that?"

"About a four-hour drive."

It quickly began to be more difficult for me to condescend. Their four-hour trip made my forty-five-minute one look like a walk across the street, but I was the one who was slightly irritated about having to make the trip. On the other hand, had I stopped to reflect (although I did not), I could have explained their enjoyment of the occasion geographically; such things might look good in comparison to the pleasures of Wayne County. Our conversation continued:

"About what time will you get back tonight?"

"About 11:00."

"Well, at least tomorrow is Sunday. Maybe you can sleep in."

Stupid me. I had assumed that all people have five-day-a-week jobs, Monday through Friday, and that they work from eight to five.

"Well, it's lambing season and one or the other of us has to get up every hour to check the sheep. We trade off, so we can sleep about two hours at a time."

Condescension turned to humiliartion: this man and woman loved their daughter more than I loved mine. Though unlike me, they actually had to sacrifice to be at the banquet, they were pleased to be there, enjoying what happened not because they were so intellectually blighted that they thought that seventeen-year-olds actually have much of importance to say and certainly not because they liked the food on the menu or found the pleasures of Wayne County so abysmal. They were there because they loved their daughter and took pleasure from seeing her enjoy herself and be honored. I love my daughter, too, but what I saw as an inconvenient and mildly irritating responsibility that is consequent on loving that daughter, they saw as part of that love.

That experience persuaded me in a moment that they were right and I was wrong. Their lives were right in a way that mine was not, and I came to that understanding by seeing a small part of their lives.

The couple next to me did nothing-almost certainly would not have thought-to offer me what philosphers recognize as rational arguments, and they almost certainly did not have the training to do so in a way that I would acknowledge as philosophical. In spite of that, their behavior allowed me to come to a conclusion: the conclusion that one should enjoy such events. They did not intend to do so. I had no impression that they were trying to teach me anything-certainly not that I was wrong. Nevertheless, being in their presence did persuade me. They did not offer evidence; [instead] they were something like evidence.
--James Faulconer

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