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A Letter from my Father 20 May 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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Surveying Sion

November 2nd, 2005: my father wrote to me just prior to my coming home for Thanksgiving. This morning, I found that letter while cleaning out my bedside table. His words offer a coda to the thought I posted about DC a few days ago.

Andrew,

Both Mother and I look forward to seeing you on the 22nd. It seems as though a hundred years have passed since Mama’s memorial service. I got an email from [your sister] this morning–she and S- are house-hunting, something further north and closer to the G- family insurance agency. She and S- haven’t made concrete plans for T-giving yet, and I have no idea when they will. It’s possible, I suppose, they will be in town, but if I were betting, I’d bet they stay in Chicago.

You made an interesting comment on the phone the other day. You said something about being homesick for people who think as you do–and that got me thinking. Most of the resident folks at Roanoke were from the Northeast and all, or almost all, were more more liberal than I. So I have some idea what you mean when you you use “homesick” in this context. I also found out, though, that the different viewpoint was somewhat helpful. I was (forced) exposed to a different opinion, and that made me examine my own opinion. When that examination occurs, one of three things can result. One, your opinion remains unchanged (and this often happens with the “bedrock” principles). Two, you can abandon your opinion and convert to whatever you have heard. Third, and this is more likely, I think, is where your opinion undergoes some change. Sometimes, the change is rather significant; other times, there isn’t much movement at all. What I found to be most infuriating was not the opinion, though, it was the smugness of the individual: “You’re not from New Jersey, Linc, so I can see why and how you’re so behind in your thinking. ” It wasn’t really arrogance, it was just a sense of superiority, I guess. These people, or many of them, it seems, were so sure their approach was right that they tended to view (and treat) those who disagreed as they would some lesser being.

This certainly was not the case for all, but there were times when those who acted this way seemed to comprise the majority. Hang in there–learning to tolerate the almost insufferable is a mark of maturity and wisdom. But I do think being almost forced to examine your own positions is crucial to development. It may have been Camus, probably someone else, who said the unexamined life is not worth living. He wasn’t advocating suicide, but he was suggesting that a person who does not examine himself and his opinions loses out on self-development and his existence is diminished because of it.

Reading two pages of my handwriting is enough for anyone, so I won’t keep you on the page much longer. Again, we look forward to the 22nd and hope you will find time to spend a little bit of your break at home–but both Mother and I know that there are other attractions awaiting you. See you soon.

Love,

Dad

No doubt, I appreciated the perspective at the time but never stopped to consider the implications. Seven months earlier, my golf coach had stopped me on the practice green. “Peters, now you’re going to one of those East Coast schools, right?” he asked.

“That’s right, coach. Virginia.”

“That’s what I thought. I’m sure you’ll like it there, but I want you to remember where you came from when they start teaching you that we were all monkeys”.

“I understand. No worries about that,” I said, and missed my four-foot putt.

Two years later I sat in my biology professor’s office with a waning belief in creationism, trying the best arguments I’d heard, and that summer, I made up my mind: evolution better explained the progress of life on earth.

The value of college, I think, derives not so much from the courses taught but from its role as a marketplace of ideas. Staying home, staying local, staying “homesick” for those who think alike does indeed stunt our intellectual growth. Our beliefs stand stronger when we have considered and rejected others.

2 a.m. edit: Turns out the quote came from Socrates.

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