I found my first post-convent job in January 1967. Through my work, I met a couple who were already protesting the Vietnam War. One day each week, no matter what the season, they stood for an hour—in complete and utter silence—in front of the army recruiting office in downtown Dayton. Many others stood with them. Their silence spoke volumes.
You may wonder why I wasn’t standing there. I have no ready answer. Perhaps I was caught up in a freedom I hadn’t known in nine years. The people I met differed from those with whom I’d lived in the convent. They both intrigued and flummoxed me. The protesting couple did both.
Let’s call them Jim and Jeanne. Younger than I, they had three children, who ranged in age from a few months to about eight years. Jim, a master of understatement, had a wry sense of humor. He’d say something offhandedly; I’d miss the joke. His eyes would gleam. Suddenly I’d catch on and giggle.
Somewhat sardonic about life, Jim was cynical about government and its underlying motives. But he was gentle with his children and interested in new ideas and new ways of looking at things.
Jeanne was what we now call “a stay-at-home mom.” Tall and lean, with a wide smile, she sprinkled four-letter words throughout a conversation. Prude that I was, I found this off-putting. Judgmental as I was, I thought she wasn’t a nice person—like myself of course. Not even my father when he’d had too much to drink had ever used those offensive words around me.
In fact, Mom and Dad had never allowed my brother or me to use even the mildest cuss words. They forbade “Hell” and “Damn.” When angry, Mom would say, “Oh fiddle-de-dee.” Once when teaching in Baileyville, Kansas, I dropped a pile of books on the floor. “Oh, fiddle-de-dee!” I muttered.
Good-humoredly, a student shouted, “When you say that, Sister Innocence, you’re really saying, ‘Damn’! Admit it! We all know it!” The class laughed gleefully and so did I. He was right.
But I wasn’t able to laugh about Jeanne’s language. Hearing it, I found her wanting. Then life intervened. We were at parties together. She lived next to another couple who’d become my good friends. In other words, we were “thrown together.” And so the learning began.
Slowly I realized that first impressions are often useless and wide of the mark. She was the most tolerant, giving, accepting, open-minded person I’ve ever known. Her heart was open to the needs of others. She might drolly say something that started with a four-letter word but what followed was to the point. Her conversation encapsulated common sense. Soon, instead of flummoxing me, she intrigued me with her broad-mindedness. I found myself wanting to be more like her, just without the four-letter words.
These then were the two friends who stood each week in front of the army recruitment center—in silence. They spouted no words. They placed no blame. They threatened no misdeeds. They simply stood. And their presence was powerful.
(Continued on Tuesday . . . )
Photo by dan from freedigitalphotos.com