4. physics a force that tends to produce an elongation of a body or structure
The girls and I enjoyed our first joint audio book so much that we decided to give another one a try. I like audio books as a way to learn in transit without feeling like we're learning. A book that I read before I started homeschooling described how this mom would use travel time to quiz her daughter on math or spelling or another subject. Given A's feelings on math, I thought this would be a mistake. I don't want homeschooling to make her feel like she is constantly quizzed or always being forced to learn. Instead, I would love for her to see learning itself with fresh eyes and come to look for the lessons everyday life offers. One such lesson life presented to me today while listening to our audio book on the drive to school: a lesson on living life in the tension.
I, Coriander is set in Oliver Cromwell's England - a time of recent revolution and circumstances that left citizens reeling (a beheaded king, a rise in Puritanism). Coriander's father is newly widowed and marries a Puritan widow at the urging of a friend. Cromwell's path to seizing power has left him suspicious that others are as devious as he and people with little link to royalty are losing their homes and more on pure speculation that they oppose the current government. Coriander's new stepmother is nearly a caricature of Puritans at this time. She enters her new household bent on making changes and aligning everything with her life's rules. Coriander is learning to read and write in English and Latin? Girls are too feeble-minded to be trusted with reading and writing. Art work on the walls? Only scenes from the Bible are allowed. Beautiful furniture? Curves in a table leg invite the devil to dine with you. While it's easy to be critical or dismissive of a character like this, I found myself wondering how different we are today.
Coriander's stepmother lives by rules that make her feel safer. If she knows - or creates - a strict set of rules, she can be sure to follow those rules. This will not only give her a sense of security, but allow her to judge others who don't follow the rules. If you're looking for (false) security in life, this is a win-win. You get to feel good about yourself while seeing others as inferior. We do this, too, don't we? We probably have different rules than Coriander's stepmother, but we do it nonetheless. Public school versus private school? Regardless of the choice we make, we create a rule surrounding it so that we can feel better about our decision and judge others who have decided differently. Republican or Democrat? Same thing - if you vote differently than I do, we can't serve the same God, love the same people, believe the same truths. In short, you must be wrong because it is essential that I see myself as right. We do this with big and small areas of our lives because it's hard work to live in the tension.
The tension is the large area between what we know for certain and the great mysteries of life. Tension leaves us without the safety of a strict set of rules. Tension requires that we acknowledge what we know to be true, but also that we acknowledge the vastness of what we don't know. Because when we acknowledge all that we don't know, we are far less likely to judge others who make different choices. We are instead more prone to sympathize with the difficulty inherent in making many of life's tough choices. Best of all, we are less certain of our own wisdom and so need to listen closely to the quiet, still voice inside us that gives us peace when we are the right path. That quiet, still voice that is sure to say one thing to you and another thing to your neighbor. Because we can't all be on the exact same path - think about how crowded that would be!
As I sat down to write this post, I asked A to work on her collage notebook so that I could write for a few minutes. (There's time enough for grammar and math once my thoughts are down.) She asked what I was going to write about and I briefly explained. Her response? "I like rules. They make me feel safe." Spoken like a true first-born child. So as I learn to live in the tension and embrace all that I don't know about life, I hope she will gradually do the same. I hope she'll learn to not mistake falsehoods for absolute truth and that she'll grow into a woman who is less concerned with following the rules than with trying to navigate the tension spots - those places that inevitably stretch us beyond the limits of our own understanding. Tension exists in life and nature for a very good reason. Without it, we can't be stretched thin. Without it, airplanes, birds and insects can't fly. And neither can we.