Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Foundations

The Curious Autobiography is very much a document concerned with foundations; the most precious kind of foundation is known as a family. One can have educational foundations, too, but really those tend to be moorings, not foundations. A great teacher comes but sadly, she goes, too. Until my senior year, I had Mrs. Zinieda Sprowles but for a moment in high school—less than a semester in tenth grade, for she fell and badly broke her arm and had to miss the rest of that term; Mrs. Crane replaced her. I learned much about literature and life from Mrs. Sprowles. I recall learning very little literature from Mrs. Crane, but rather, as memory serves, she busied herself with teaching Situation Ethics.

Situation Ethics, qua discipline, which I do not believe it actually is or ever should have been, basically justified immoral behavior if the situation calls for a bend or flex in one’s “rigid” upbringing. If your parents told you not to get drunk, for example, in the right situation it might be okay to do so; if your parents told you not to go to wild parties with girls from Holton-Arms School or boys from Georgetown Preparatory School, you can go anyway, and adjust your ethics to the situation at hand, from drinking too much to flirting to making sexual advances or even something worse, whether wanted or unwanted. It all depends on the situation, the ephemeral moment and what it calls for.

Now don’t get me wrong. Dear, sweet Mrs. Crane was a good lady, a nice person who cared about her students. She just happened to have drunk of the same bad fount from which other teachers of that same era (the late 70s/early 80s) had drunk—yes, there’s an awkward pun here somewhere. I think it is safe to say—or is it?—that we are reaping the sorry fruits of Situation Ethics now. Fruits may be the wrong word; dandelions might be more to the point. Dandelions look like flowers, but they are in fact weeds. Likewise, Situation Ethics.

Odysseus’ men in Lotus Island

But to return to foundations. As I said, educational experiences are moorings, not foundations. Family is a foundation. Friends, like education, are beacons or moorings. They might helpfully or unhelpfully guide you, whether offering a bad moment of lotus-eating or providing you genuine respite along the way, but then you’ll have to move on to the next city or town, and all too often fall out of touch, at least a bit, with your friends. But family is bedrock; and the values you garner from the family are hard to shake. You can go to therapy and learn that your parents were horrible beasts trying to mould you, to groom you into being just like them; you can read books about how to break away from the religious intolerance and bigotry of your upbringing. The Curious Autobiography, again, quite addresses that, and shows that for Elaine, it was, in the end an impossible task for her to become “unWelsh,” to lose her Welshness. And barring intentional neglect or death, you don’t fall out of touch with your husband or wife, your mother or father, your sister or brother. They are yours for life; they are, in fact, yours forever.

And that is what this blog is really about: a forever perspective. I have a friend whose mother is ill now, as was Elaine in the years leading up to her passing. These are difficult times for her and her mom, poignant for the memories they evoke and the memories, in caregiving, that they are providing. Sadly, one can’t go back in time and fix all the wrongs that one committed or, more certainly, those committed against oneself; (that mentality is admittedly very much in the air these days, a kind of balancing of the scales that too often goes beyond mere justice). But one can go forward in the darkest hour of one’s mother’s or father’s life, even the days of passing, with grace, forgiveness, and love.

a family reunion

So what is the foundation I am pointing towards today? It is an eternal, not an ephemeral outlook, the love of a family, the commitment to see that person, whether husband or wife, mother or father, through to the end, regardless of the pain, present or past, embracing every moment, thankful for every memory, even the hard ones, and rejoicing that though it is the end, it is not the end.

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