Friday, September 10, 2010

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."- Derek Bok

"Tolerance" is a loaded word, one which I do not wish to further burden with further loaded interpretation. Let's just say that when I have my oratory on, I usually defer to High School Latin class for insight into words' meanings. I've always defined tolerate as "to permit," rather than the more testy "to put up with." "To permit" also looked better in the exam book.
As luck would have it, that Latin class was taught by a jocular Jesuit philosopher whose breezy comfort with reality almost convinced me to surrender the smirks and scowls of my typical bratty teenhood.
Father Foley was the faculty moderator for the "satire magazine" that my chums and I produced. Foley even conferred his name to the pamphlet, Foliage. We kids scoffed at the office overlords' ready capitulation to our smartassery, assuming they presumed that we would tire of producing the fully-sanctioned subversive sheet after about two issues.
They were right.
They were being tolerant.
I quoted the title of a favorite album at the time. Give Em Enough Rope.
Which is how I feel about the frightened people who see every other person's freedom as an infringement upon their own. You know the ones. They are the momentary embarrassing glitch in the arc of American civilization, whose ignorance only serves as an example for the rest of us. Now you know how not to act in our country. Y'see, we have freedoms that are ensured by book-learning, not by book-burning.
Back last century, I took advantage of a company-funded membership in a festering Petri dish of sweat, stink, and pathogens in a metal building known as -- ironically -- a "health club."
In the locker area once, while avoiding the middle-aged wheezer who had apparently stripped his porcine bulk in order to practice his own personal podiatry, I noticed one devout practitioner of Islam.
Behind some rows of rarely used lockers, "Aariz" quietly performed salah.
I was familiar with the ritual because of an animated explanation by an avuncular high school teacher who had taught (I assume) at a private Catholic school in Saudi Arabia back when one could do that. The old Jesuit posited that of all Arab contributions to civilization in mathematics, science, medicine, architecture, and music, his favorite was that "cleanliness is next to godliness." Which was his way of saying that "Arabs" (he meant "Muslims") were fastidious in their prayerfulness as well as in their personal hygiene, which he advised us boys to emulate. Particularly those of us in his class after gym.
He was also quick to advise us to read the books in the library about it. Few of us did, but we enjoyed his reminiscences and occasional sartorial forays into keffiyeh and bisht and thobe.
The idea of whether Muslims were "of the devil" was never discussed. I am fully cognizant of how fortunate I was to have been in that classroom.
But in that dressing room that 1998 day, Piggy McGruntensweat, having noticing that I had courteously moved away from the benediction, said, "Pretty disgusting, that towelhead, huh?"
I stared dumbly at the piles of clippings and toejam left scattered about the floor, shook my head, grabbed my gear, and departed.
I wasn't sure whether I was offended by the "towelhead" rejoinder -- for which I would surely be tagged derisively as that dreadable "PC" -- or was I simply disappointed in my fellow American's lack of simple courtesy?
Years later, Aariz and I exchange pleasantries at gallery openings or other community and cultural events.
I have never seen that other guy anywhere.
I guess we just move in different circles.

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