The Wisdom of Distance

Having grandchildren, it seems to me, would be a useful prelude to having children. I notice things with grandchildren that I don’t remember noticing with my children. I suppose it’s hard to be noticing when you’re trying to minister to a parish that doesn’t know about eight-hour days and five day weeks. But in those days nobody knew about 24/7. Parishes and children both demand 24/7, but you can’t give it to both. At least a parish schedule is more flexible than Wall Street ever was. I could be home for lunch many days and have dinner as a family most days.

But still, I don’t think I noticed the way a child can understand so much more than he or she can verbalize. Eli at a year and a half could be asked to go get the tissue box and bring it back and do it. But his vocabulary was pretty much “mama” and “bye-bye.” At 21 months he can take a picture of himself, his brother, his parents, and his grandparents and run to each of us and point to us in the picture, but Ben is “baba” and grandparents are both “gawgaw.” The understanding still far exceeds the articulation. I suppose our own four went through a similar stage but I don’t remember noticing. Is it because now it’s always a few months between visits and the changes are more visible? Maybe partly that; maybe partly the fact that grandparents can afford to be more observant because less immediately involved.

So maybe the grandparent experience should be a prerequisite for political or ecclesiastical office. What if George W had been a grandparent already and could look at Iraq dispassionately as a wise observer rather than as a participant too committed to his decisions to see what’s happening as a result?

But certainly wisdom is not born of intensity. Parents, presidents, and primates could all benefit by backing off from the issues and events that push their buttons. The artist knows that perspective comes from standing away, not from putting the nose to the canvass.

So that’s what I’m pondering while visiting grandchildren in California. If you have time to consider an example from the ecclesiastical world, check out a statement by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schorri. With all the pressure of angry Anglicans focused directly on her, she is able to write, “While these issues are of major importance, it is our very intensity about them that is preventing a life-giving resolution.”

How many people from the president on down could benefit by that wisdom?

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