“There are worse things I could do / Than go with a boy or two…”
When my friend and his beloved were about to get engaged, they talked several times about the ring. For a number of reasons they agreed that, though he could afford a diamond, they didn’t want one. But when it came time to buy something, my friend thought about getting a diamond after all.
‘Assume for a moment,’ he said, ‘That she and I love each other, and understand each other, and we really don’t want one. I think that’s true. But there’s still everyone else. If I don’t buy one, we have to explain that again and again and again, to our friends, our colleagues, our grandparents. She has to. I don’t want that.’
Even if they were happy with their choice, they would still live within the web of everyone else’s judgments and assumptions and opinions. There’s a weight to that. (I told him they should give me a lesson in the explanation, and then just direct everyone’s questions to me. He didn’t think that was practical). While I treasure the individual open mind and deep heart, thinking and feeling toward what is right, we all live in that web. If you look at the etymologies, both “morals” and “ethics” are tied (through Latin and Greek) to words for “custom.” They’re words about how we do things. We. The community. We do it like this, with a sparkly bit of carbon.
That’s the web Rizzo’s in, too. She can feel her community pulling at her, not actively but passively with its ideas of what’s worse. She doesn’t agree. That doesn’t solve everything. (What’s worse–going with a boy or two, or the casual, social cruelty with which we hurt others to drag ourselves up?). We can disagree, we can try to cut through the web, or reweave part of it by changing others’ minds, or find a community whose web feels different. But we live within the morals, the ethics, the customs that wrap around us. (My love for the individual’s moral compass is even the name of an essay: Self-Reliance, by one of my web-weavers). I think it’s important to remember that. I think it’s important to wonder what web we’re weaving around Rizzo. Will we push her to feel ashamed for going “with a boy or two”? Is that really worse (she asks us) than the causal, social cruelty with which we hurt others to make ourselves feel better? When she walks through High School, and sees how people look at her, what will we see as wrong?
For my part, I don’t think we can escape from custom’s web, but I hope we can avoid diminishing each other with it. I hope someone saw Rizzo, singing there alone. I hope they listened: “I can feel, and I can cry…” she said. I hope they went to her with a kind heart and an open mind, trying to understand, and so made our web a little better.