As you might be this likewise, having characterised me, I must warn you of something. Whether we like it or not, it’s very likely that many people will highly dislike us. Not for any good reason, mind you; but, simply because of some obscure label that has been attached onto us.
I am not, as one would call, an entirely patriotic man, in the sense that patriotism is attached to a certain continent and state thereon. It’s not out of a disdain or even indifference to any country — there’s plenty of that to go about already — but it’s more for the fact that my heart and spirit are elsewhere placed. As the best explanation, I am a patriot of God’s country, our own far off country, yet nothing we may gander in this immediate reality. I am more placed in the latter of “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” and perhaps I ought to pay a little more heed to the earlier, but I do not. I suppose in the current circumstance, you could say I am more like T. S. Eliot, the American who wound up in England, and yet I claim neither for the sake of identity. I am, so to speak, without a clear social identity. So, to suppose me as a stereotypical American isn’t necessarily accurate at all, just as supposing me as anything else would not be entirely accurate. And yet, that is all I am supposed as here.
There is a sort of unnecessary xenophobia I have found in England, one that feels very much like ‘racism’. Despite being socially my own, not very ‘American like’, and looking more European, the moment I open my mouth, show my id, or am noticed as from America, attitudes find a way of changing. Just this past morning I went to the store for a bit of groceries and, despite paying with an initially friendly registeree, the moment I had to present my ‘identity’ her tone changed for the worse. And, I mind you, I am not a rude or loud individual, I aim to treat people as lovingly and genteelly as could be. I went back a day or so later and the same lady insisted I run back to my room (across the street), to pick up my passport, and prove my identity matched that as my credit card. I’ve had similar encounters trying to open a bank and simply wandering about the country and traveling. Some days and some places are certainly worse than others, while on others it appears quite civil and amicable, so it’s not at all the general consensus. Yet till, it is something we are dealt with here.
Thankfully, yes that’s right, thankfully, Christ experienced this same sort of ‘racism’ when he returned to his childhood home of Nazareth. For, while He had done many wondrous things in the regions about Nazareth, he did very few within the town itself, simply because the people could focus on nothing more than Him being “the carpenter’s son,” the son of Mary, and brother to James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, whose sisters were with them. They could not see past what He was born into, to see where He was born from, to understand Him as the Christ. The assumption of Nazareth blinded them to the reality of true identity. Whatever assumption is made of us, and whatever prejudice or ‘racism’ that follows, Christ was dealt similarly, and yet He did not falter to a similar vice.
Othello, while he may have fallen in the end, was built upon a similar forbearance. When his wife was presented to him as having faltered in her fidelity, he held to her true character (of likewise acceptance) as an assurance to her constancy, rather than following a faulty assumption of prejudice and racism. He based his own assumptions of her on the true character of her actions and goodness. Shakespeare himself could be put up as a similar victim; being from a particularly small town and not being written as the most trained of individuals, it’s easy, for many, to assume he simply could not have written all that is attributed to him, to assume from irrelevant pasts and be blinded to his true identity. It’s far too easy to blind ourselves with assumptions, I find.
‘Tis not to make me jealous
To say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company,
Is free of speech, sings, plays, and dances.
Where virtue is, these are more virtuous.
Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw
The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt,
For she had eyes and chose me.
– Othello 3.3.191
I’ve dealt with this most my life, having not learned to read till I was eleven, being subsequently labeled as dumb, or being a particularly quiet person and thus set up as judgemental, proud, and angry, while in truth I am the complete opposite of all these. I’ve almost gotten so used to others assuming something completely irrelevant to who I am, I expect it, and I hate this expectation, this essential fear. My darling daughter, whoever you are born as, from wherever you come, whatever little irrelevant details follow you about, they do not have to be you. While others will often latch onto these for the sake of identifying you, you do not have to fear this, for it will never have to alter who you truly are. The reckless assumptions of others should never cause fear in us, should never demand we prescribe to them. For, just as Othello’s wife chose him in spite of his faults, even giving her life in the end for it, so we are chosen by Christ in spite of our faults, and we ought to choose others thus likewise.
Moving abroad, alone, is hard. There are times where you want to talk to someone, talk to someone familiar, someone who understands your rambles, and who won’t blindly hate you for some obscure reason, and yet all of those people are asleep, because it’s three in the morning for them. So, while I sit here drinking as much if not more tea than most Englishman, reading Shakespeare and Lewis, and not really caring in the least about current American politics, I hide from the prejudices that linger about outside my door, hoping I might find such courage as I write to face the blind world about me. Despite being alone, I fight to assume the courage Christ in His own isolation had, the courage Othello’s wife had, to face the nasty assumptions. For if the blind men should grope about for an assuming detail, I hope that we might both have eyes to see past their faults, to see the truer identity hidden beneath the judge. I hope you might grow up courages and never fearful to the blindness we face.
Feel free to peruse my other letters in the Avon Epistles collection
and understand who I’m really writing to.
- Sydney Robert Jones, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford on Avon, early 20th Century
- Matthew 13 : 53-58