Books, Religion and Politics: Discuss

Gathering at our annual Maine retreat

In the book group only four years, I’m a newcomer.  There are ten of us in total, though we’re never all there at the same time.  All accomplished professionals, some are in their second or third careers, and two have recently retired.

Politics is the fuel for this particular group’s engine, and infuses most conversations. From our launching off point on the merits of a particular book,  we move into deeper waters.  How does class, ethnicity and gender influence writing, art?  Invariably, politics and religion get tossed into the mix, and we take up social policy and public perception.

The discussions are honest and incisive, humorous and filled with humanity.  We challenge and occasionally suprise each other (and ourselves) with an unexpected insight or admission.  As is the practice with my women’s softball team, there’s no apologizing…we’re a collection of strong-minded women who aren’t threatened by differences of opinion.

We’re a pretty independent lot, and though we all enjoy close connections with family and community, there’s blessedly little focus on our roles as caregivers and nurturers in our conversations.  We talk, eat well, drink wine, and talk some more.  We’ve traveled together, gone kayaking and walked miles of beach. We’ve supported each other through surgeries and family deaths,  celebrated new grandchildren and career shifts.

Driving home after last night’s meeting,  I felt a wave of gratitude – to Nancy, who invited me into the group; and to these women I now consider friends.   It’s a welcome relief to put aside social conventions and speak frankly – and sometimes raunchily – about  things that really matter.  No delicate sensibilities in this group, no fear of offending.

With age, I find myself being more direct and less ‘social worky’.  There’s something about being honest that I suspect requires some maturity…meaning that I don’t need you to agree with me in order to feel legitimate.  Speaking my opinion also calls for a little humility…while I don’t need to dress it up to make it palatable for anyone else, I realize it’s not the only or the final truth.  There are limits to my understanding, after all.

Where and with whom do you dare to be heard – and to listen – without fear? What does it take?

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