Quite a curious conservative I am, in two ways at least.
One has to do with everyone’s world, the second with my own personal place in it.
It’s easier to talk about everyone’s world; you belong to it too, whoever you may be.
I have tried many ways to put my concern into action. Upon receiving an undergraduate degree in philosophy, I took a working-class job in a nursing home as a nurse assistant. Most of my co-workers were from Haiti, some other island in the Caribbean, or from western Africa, or they were African-American. I am a European-American. You see I avoid using those terms ‘black’ and ‘white’–because they are…well, black and white. Not very informative.
After a few years, I went to another university and earned another undergraduate degree–this time in nursing. I worked for several years as a registered nurse, spending most of my time on a geriatric psychiatry ward. Most of our patients had been kicked out of nursing homes for bad behavior. The insurance companies gave us ten days to reform them. This was unrealistic. During most of these years, I lived and worked in an inner-city neighborhood where most of the residents were African-American.
There are two themes here: caring for the sick, while living and working with people whose reality and history are very different from my own. How is this conservative? I was concerned to conserve the tradition of hands-on, direct caring that I admired so much in the image of St Catherine of Siena.
She was also concerned to encourage different groups of people to live together more peacefully. Say there are two groups. Should one group destroy or assimilate the other, only one group would remain. I think I’m conservative because I should far prefer both groups remaining and retaining their distinctive traits.
Frustrated by the healthcare system, I went back to university again and received a PhD in philosophy. I taught courses at several different colleges as an adjunct or visiting professor. When I entered the job market for tenure-track positions, I found it very stressful and I didn’t perform well.
Then, under this pressure, and under the stress of other factors, I began to disintegrate. A Humpty Dumpty girl who fell off a wall and then down the rabbit hole. I now suffer with severe anxiety. It’s very difficult for me to leave the house; sometimes it seems like a major challenge just to go from my bedroom to the kitchen.
This is my personal place in the world. Through losing my place in the world, I have come to recognize that I have features of Asperger’s or autism. I was just now looking at a documentary about a boarding school for autistic teen-aged girls. One girl asks, “How can I be human if my own species rejects me?”
Oddly enough, through all of this my mood remains quite cheerful. I love Planet Earth and I care about the human beings. I’m not able to do much, so I’ve come to think of myself as an observer, a visitor from another star. Ksenia is a stranger. The name stems from the same root we see in the word ‘xenophobia.’ All you have to do is pronounce the letter X as ks. Kseno-phobia: the fear of strangers, fear of the strange. The human beings, I must admit, do seem strange to me. But I don’t fear them; I fear for them. And for the other forms of earthly life.
I am a conservative in the sense that I see many things that are worth preserving. If I’m opposed to something, it’s only because it seems to threaten the flourishing–or the very survival–of something else. I’m not opposed to change or attempts at reform per se, because the things I care about are themselves living things and all living things are constantly undergoing change.
Traditions, for example, are living things. As people pass something down from one generation to the next, it changes. It has to, because we are not the same people our ancestors were, and our conditions are not the same as theirs were. So a traditional, conservative person should not–cannot–be opposed to change per se, but rather to changes that threaten the flourishing or the very survival of living traditions that seem, that are, worth preserving.
But I am anxious, because so many things–not just me–seem to be falling to pieces or losing their places. Here I am, trying to hold it together, talking to you, sharing with you my concern.