Words to Live By
Be Prepared. Stand Guard. Remember the Alamo. Live Free or Die. Keep Calm and Carry On.
I’ve never been a joiner—never been a member of good community associations such as the Girl Scouts. I couldn’t wrap my curly head around joining and being “keen” on things like camping in skimpy tents and making a fire from damp wood, though I think I could enjoy learning to be self-reliant in the woods. I struggled with the notion Groucho Marx espoused: “why would I want to belong to any club which allowed me as a member?” First mistake on their part.
Every school morning in Montreal, we stood at our wooden desks and sang “God Save the Queen.” I could never connect my reedy entreaty with the Queen’s actual safety and well-being, but there we were. At some point, things got a bit more nationalistic, and we switched to “O Canada” in both French and English—a brain teaser at 8:15 a.m. “Terre de nos aieux”— land of our forefathers—at least now they acknowledge the land on which they stand was formerly the land of the ancestors of the First Nations and not anyone else’s, really.
My Scottish mother was a Leslie, a small clan above Edinburgh whose exhortation is “Grip Fast.” Notice how most mottos are grammatically incorrect, a verb, (which can also be a noun) modified by an adjective, not an adverb. Hmm, what are we teaching here?
This past 18 months, I like the rest of the planet—or at least like what felt like the rest of the New York City metro area (aren’t they the same thing?)—hunkered down nightly to watch the PBS Newshour’s measured, intelligent staff walk me through chaos and tragedy. At some point, my husband Dwight gave up and went to his piano to blast his favorite hymns:
O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Love Divine; We Walk by Faith: These were his words of comfort.
Around May or June of 2020, Newshour’s Judy Woodruff started using a standard signoff—perhaps she had always said this, but I now became riveted by it. “Thank you. Please stay safe, and we’ll see you tomorrow.” There were my orders for the next 24 hours — stay safe.
As Christians, we might argue about some words of encouragement omitted: “check on your neighbor”; “bless those who have less”, “remember the Sabbath (if only on Zoom).” But for me, in my time of need and solace, staying safe was achievable, worthy of all my attention and thus pleasing to my family and loved ones. I didn’t have to win the Nobel Prize or the Man Booker award (though I still have time) but follow safety protocols with all due diligence, wave to my neighbor from my porch, and pray for the wellbeing of all those brave caregivers.
I may resist being a member of a specific group in some odd way of thinking, but I do like the inclusivity of simple instructions—my tired brain can hold onto two words, maybe three—and manage to muddle through. We Anglicans can distinguish ourselves from our Roman Catholic friends with Scripture, Tradition and Reason: it works every time. Perhaps I risk being non-PC, but at least there are no inappropriate adjectives messing with the nouns.
Jesus did not wave a manifesto in front of the disciples’ faces: he just invited them in to serve and heal. Love one another: a complete imperative which makes sense in so many ways. But perhaps we have a better example in Micah 6:8: “do justice (fine noun!), …love kindness (or mercy, both fine nouns!), …walk humbly (Finally, an adverb!!) with your God.”
Please, stay safe.