Little Dilemmas and Moral Relativism

Little Dilemmas and Moral Relativism

shoes, old and new

Here are two small, current dilemmas here:

1.)  My daughter’s worn out shoes.

I gave a familiar ultimatum to my teenagers: clean your room or else. The “else” in this case was the worse threat imaginable. I promised that if they didn’t do it, I would enter their room and do it myself. (You’d think I am being outrageous demanding that corners and under beds be actually clean at least once a year!) Last year, my youngest daughter hastened to clean her room, and my son did not, so I cleaned my son’s room. This year it was the reverse. As much as they defend that they like their messy rooms, they are relieved to have it tidy and fresh again. It is a pivotal point in the year, a new lease for a new dispensation. So, lucky me, here I am, while my daughter is off having a grand time at camp, I’m covered in sweat and dust, exacting my satisfaction on her room. Thankless stuff, this motherhood thing, even though I know she’ll be overjoyed with the result. I’d rather be reading my book or swimming at the Quarry.

So, in the back of her closet, I found these old shoes reverently stashed. Now if you ever knew this kid, you’d know that she’s had probably ten incarnations of this exact same shoe, incrementally, in every size up from toddlerhood-teeny-tweeny through outgrowing children’s sizes. (You can tell by the lack of wear, that the bloom was off the rose with the last pair, which were approximately right but not quite the same in an adult shoe by another company.) Now this collection would be much more impressive if I hadn’t been so rational and thrown away all those other worn out versions as we got new ones. (Or were they actually retrieved and concealed in memorabilia boxes in my basement?)

So, what to do with them? The largest are not an issue, they will be dispassionately routed to someone who needs them. But the other two despicably worn out ones? Trashing them quickly was my first thought; that is the obvious thing to do. My second thought was that I’d have to do that discreetly, which made me start to feel slightly guilty, a feeling I try never to indulge. My third thought was remembering all the trees she climbed, gardens she tended, hikes enjoyed, and all out exuberant play she did in those disreputable shoes. She loved them, I knew. The more broken in the better, as far as she was concerned. They were her trademark, emblematic of her persona. Could I cavalierly toss that out? So sharing the moment, I showed my son and husband. Oh dear, now the plot thickens when you get not only personal sense but varying human opinion involved.

Not surprisingly, my son was appalled that I’d even consider getting rid of them. He was mildly indignant that I would ever think I had the right to throw away anything that was someone else’s. (This stance is from the son that mourned the replacement of our crumbling sidewalk, wanting to keep a piece of it forever and pitched a fit when we wouldn’t let him, the son who kept the silverware caddy from our old dishwasher after it had to be replaced after 25 years of faithful service; basically he is the most sentimental person in the house, so his response didn’t surprise me. Additionally, the fact that my daughter had turned over some of her rights to my executive decision-making upon relinquishing the job to me, held no weight as an argument to him, so imperious was he!) But I also knew waiting and asking her about the shoes was tantamount to keeping them. I really don’t want my house cluttered with useless stuff, but I don’t want to jeopardize my child’s trust either. I resolved to start by taking photos for memories, shown here, hoping they would suffice in lieu of the actual objects. (The very bottom photo, however, was taken for contrast, four years ago when most beat up the middle pair were new…)

This morning, though, passing them skulking in the hall, I had a new thought. This daughter is quite an artist. I suddenly pictured her doing an art “installation” in a contemporary museum where these shoes were the metaphoric critical piece, staggered on a ladder or stair step maybe, along with all those other editions presumably sequestered in somewhere in my basement. In the sculpture, they’d represent her, so subtly and so completely: rugged, classy, loyal and practical. I’m storing so much other stuff in this house because of its creative potential. Doubtless someone else would throw out my collection of fax rolls that I’ve kept all these years – those sturdy narrow cardboard tubes that I plan on embedding in gesso on a canvas someday in rays of solar texture. I wouldn’t stand complacently by at their callous removal. So I grudgingly have decided to trust my daughter on this one. While unlikely, maybe she’ll decide she doesn’t need them and out they’ll go. But I’ve forfeited my optimal opportunity to whisk them away, out of sight and out of mind, in favor of not running roughshod over her feelings and faith in me. Interesting, because on a different day, they’d probably be perfunctorily in the garbage, without a second thought, and I’d have congratulated myself on doing us all a favor.

2.) The skunk.

We have a resident skunk. He’s dug a nine inch hole next to our foundation, enjoying a cozy home next to the drier vent. If he hadn’t gotten such an entitlement attitude, we’d be ignoring him. But once he scurried over our feet at the picnic table during the day as if we had no right to be there and he did. That seemed unusually assertive, and possibly dangerous. Can we be sure he doesn’t have rabies? But now the aggressive wretch has moved off mowing down the violets, in favor of eating up our choice tomatoes just before we go to pick them.

Now truly I’m a peace-nick. Tolerance is a thing to be praised. But this feels like war. We’ve had one of those have-a-heart traps outside his den, but somehow this tricky dude manages to get the bait without getting in the trap. Not that we’d know what to do with him if we trapped him. We caught a ground hog once that way, and mercifully carried him to the car. We released him with the enthusiastic permission of an Audubon Conservancy a good distance from here. But who wants to risk putting a pesky skunk in their car, let alone carrying the trap? But do we want to drop a poison bomb down his hole and have dead rotting skunk down there?

Now I once had a dramatic experience where my prayer for a squished skunk on a road revived and healed him. Since one of the key ideas was the idea of forgiveness (“Forgive them for they know not what they do”) that experience was the centerpiece in that year’s Good Friday Sermon. I was that other skunk’s knight in shining armor. I hold no animosity toward skunks in general, just apparently this current rude one encroaching on my territory. My husband suggests that if I pray for this one, maybe he’ll up and leave. I’d like to think so, but honesty is key to effective prayer, and I keep thinking, where else would he rather be? He’s got the warm drier vent, an awesome garden, and a burgeoning compost pile. What incentive could induce him to decide to leave? Mostly I’m praying he doesn’t take up a wife, who, attracted to his fabulous living conditions, starts dressing him in bow ties like the storybooks and bears him a brood of cute hungry babies, that not only would decimate our whole garden, but somehow be more reprehensible to kill.

Alas, thou shalt not kill would have to be one of those Ten Commandments that aren’t supposed to be multiple choice. Not that I don’t kill mosquitoes. But you can’t like me be a vegetarian for 30 years without some trifle of a commitment not to kill animals. So as unlikely as this is, this morning we’ve dirtied our hands and possibly our souls by exploring hiring an exterminator. And here I am, usually the conscientious objector in the bunch, willing to go to unfathomable lengths to win this war, which I never wanted to wage, over something smaller, stupider and far more defenseless than myself. Yikes.

What would you do in these silly circumstances? What do you think?

You can eschew moral relativism as much as you wish, but like it or not it is in the midst of even those who endeavor to try to live by a fixed eternal standard. This is not a black and white world. There’s a lot of complex and shifting grey out there to slog through…

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I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.


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