A traveler in the middle ages happens upon a large work site in the center of a village. He had been traveling for many days, and he was eager to talk to anyone who would engage with him.
He walked up to a worker at the site and asked, “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”
The worker scowled a bit and said tersely, “I am cutting stones.”
The traveler decided he would find little conversation there, so he moved on to another worker. When he asked the same question, the worker paused for a moment and explained that he was cutting stones so he could support his family.
He had a wonderful wife and two small children who depended on him to provide them with food and shelter. They chatted about the project and the village for a few minutes, and the worker turned back to his large pile of stones.
The traveler moved to a third worker and asked the same question: “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”
The worker put down his tools, stood quite tall, looked the traveler in the eye and said with a warm smile, “I am building a cathedral. It will be the tallest and most magnificent structure for miles around. Its beauty will delight people for centuries to come. The stone I am now working on will go near the front door where people will enter for shelter and kinship. I will probably not see the final product, but I know my work is part of something very important.”
Somewhere along the line, maybe all the way back in the very beginnings of the country's ferocious founding, Americans decided to adopt the rhetoric of the distinctly masculine. When we want change, we fight. We go to war. We win battles. We create weapons and beat those we disagree with.
This theme carries over to "battles against diseases," "wars" on everything from alcohol and drugs to the idea of terrorism. It seems we are perpetually in some state of aggression against any fabricated or real enemy.
As a feminist, I suggest we reject this terminology. I believe we can embrace a more feminine model and, instead of destroy and battle, we can build. The idea that we can "fight" the weather is silly; instead we build shelter from it. Build. Create coalitions. Construct roads to empathy and trust among even those we have chosen to despise. Cathedrals for the many places we desperately need for solace and community and progress. Cathedrals that are open to all people.
There will be one giant room. And open seating. And bathrooms for everyone with respect for each individual's humanity. Everyone can marry in our cathedrals.
Here's where it gets sticky.
Most of us have been indoctrinated to see this sort of work in the same way as the first stonecutter. It is a thankless chore. There are certainly many who see the building of tolerance, inclusivity and true fairness for everyone as a self-serving exercise like the second stonecutter. In both cases, the labor is focused almost strictly on the Self rather the task. "What's in it for ME?" is both isolating and impatient.
I will probably not see the final product, but I know my work is part of something very important.
Those are the words of someone committed to an ideal far larger than their self. These are the words of the people we laud in our history. These are the words we should aspire to rather the sentiments of shame or immediate gratification. We have a society built from IKEA furniture but cathedrals are built from more solid stuff and their beauty will sustain people for centuries to come.
No more fighting. No more battles. No more winning and losing.
Let's built some goddamned cathedrals.
And maybe build in some moats and places to pour boiling acid from just in case.