Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

An older woman walked into the monastery gift shoppe where I volunteer every other week.

I love this job because it reminds me of playing store when I was little. There is a cash box with a key, an adding machine with a spool of white paper, and a receipt book with carbon paper on which I write up purchases. The white one goes in the cash box, the yellow one with the customer. We take only cash or checks: there’s not a credit card machine or chip that plugs into your I-Phone to pay anywhere in sight. Volunteers have been known to lend people cash so they can make their purchases, relying on the honor system of being paid back.

Vaccinated, but still masked for now…

I love the job because I’m off the grid for a few hours – my I-Phone doesn’t get service there – and the 20 or so sisters at the monastery aren’t obsessed with sales. Sure, they rely on them to survive, but they have more important things on their mind, including praying for the salvation of man. I’m all for that, because we could sure use it these days.

I knew this customer was a little prickly when she took a seat across from me, and asked me why I wasn’t playing religious music, as many volunteers do.

“I really enjoy the quiet,” I said. “Many of the people who come in here remark on how quiet it is, such a break from the noise of everyday life.” It’s true. The quiet and sense of peace are the first things people comment on when they step onto the monastery grounds in North Guilford, CT. It’s a different kind of quiet, the kind that heightens your sense of hearing and makes you long for more quiet spaces.

“I enjoy hearing religious music when I’m here,” she repeated.

I didn’t flinch, nor feel the need to slip a CD disc into the CD player behind the desk. She made her opinion known, and I listened to her, but I did my own thing. Listening is usually a good strategy when dealing with other people, but it doesn’t mean we should compromise our own wishes. I like the quiet, so it stayed quiet.

Her breathing was heavy and it looked like she was struggling to breathe behind her face mask. I commented that it looked like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was struggling to breathe behind her face mask during President Biden’s address to the Joint Session of Congress. At times it looked like Pelosi was having difficulty breathing, something I’ve struggled with at times behind a mask.

“I didn’t watch it,” she snapped. “I wouldn’t watch him or her for all the money in the world.”

Her friend quickly chimed in, “Every time I see her, it looks like she’s had another facelift. Why would I watch her?”

I was a little surprised by the women’s response to my comment. Once upon a time, it was our civic duty to watch presidential addresses. It didn’t matter if we voted for the president or not: we had a duty to hear what he had to say, to be educated on what was going on with our country. That’s how I was raised anyway. You didn’t skip the President’s address because of someone’s appearance, or even their politics.

Her comment bothered me, particularly since President Biden has stayed largely behind the scenes since taking office in January. It’s not as if he’s been on TV a lot. In fact, he’s been roundly criticized by some for his low profile while tackling the worst pandemic to hit this country in 100 years. So I was interested in what he had to say after more than three months on the job. I figured a lot of other people felt the same way I did.

Since I began voting at age 18, I’ve listened to more presidents I didn’t vote for than presidents I did. But that’s part of our civic duty: becoming informed and listening to speeches and press conferences so we can form educated opinions on issues, not just repeat pablum filtered through political pundits. Failing to educate yourself about what’s going because you don’t like someone isn’t an excuse, at least in my book.

If you don’t know what’s going on, how can you form an opinion, or possibly have it changed? An open mind seems to be a rare commodity these days, but I think it’s something we all need. The worst kind of thinking is believing you know everything, having your mind made up before you know all or even some of the facts. It would be nice if we all emerged from the pandemic a little more open-minded and willing to listen.

This was Biden’s first major address to the joint session of Congress since taking office. I was most interested in what he had to say about the pandemic and the future. I wanted to hear what he had to say about jobs, and was buoyed when he mentioned a push for all of us to buy American again. That hasn’t been a national rallying cry in a long time, and quite frankly is long overdue.

My encounter with the women got me thinking about civic duty, and the importance of doing your part for this nation. I decided to alter my Facebook photo to show that I’ve been double vaccinated against Covid 19. I didn’t know this was an option until several of my Facebook friends put the tiny banner along the edge of their profile photos. It’s a little thing, but shows my support for the vaccination program. It’s the least I can do to show others that I’m on board, actually thrilled to be double vaccinated.

Facebook launched the program in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote public awareness and acceptance of the vaccine. The theory is that if people see family and friends doing it, they’ll do it too. Facebook is launching the frames because studies show how social norms can have a major impact on people’s attitude and behavior when it comes to their health.

They have a point: I decided to change my profile picture after seeing one of my friends had done it. It’s a simple thing, but maybe it will convince someone who’s on the fence to do it.