Lately I have been thinking about trust. A few Sundays ago, as I walked past St.Francis Cabrini chapel, I passed a father and his daughter. The father, hiply dressed in jeans and an urban khaki jacket, held his daughter's hand. She was a fiesta of pink: pink frills peaked out from beneath a pink poofy winter jacket; pink leggings stretched along pudgy three year old legs that were planted in pink Barbie sneakers. From beneath his baseball cap the father said, We have to trust each other. The little girl looked at the yellow ice where a dog had urinated near the sidewalk. I trust you, the father said, do you trust me? The girl didn't answer. The father asked again, we need to trust each other, do you trust me? The girl nodded, OK, Daddy, she said.
Learning how to trust at such an early age, I thought, bodes well for a little girl's future. But what sparked the father's request? Fear of future betrayal?
That got me thinking. Betrayals of trust come in different shapes and sizes. There are the small daily betrayals, ones that often go unnoticed and rightly so (they would occupy too much mental energy): the unanswered emails, the friend who cancels plans at the last minute, or the neighbor who throws away errant socks rather than laying them on the laundry table to await retrieval by its owner. There are the betrayals to self: when, lacking faith in ourselves, we do the opposite of our intentions. I know this from dance: when I don't trust my Self and my own body, I fall down. Then there are the more significant betrayals: the co-worker who undermines our work by secreting information and keeping us out of the loop; the friend who, thinking us unaware, makes a pass at a boyfriend; the family member who, not having all the information, judges rather than understands. There are the larger betrayals still: lies, infidelity, abuse. Then there are the betrayals that tear at the fabric of society: murder, rape, war.
Society depends on trust. Right now, I'm thinking about making a large purchase, and am dependent on trusting a complete stranger for legal and other matters. Every time I drive my car, I'm trusting my mechanic and the factory workers before him. For adults not clothed in frilly pink and not holding the hand of a hip urban father, trust can be confusing.
Hannah Arendt wrote that trust begins with forgiveness. But forgiveness doesn't come easily. It ebbs and flows. It takes baby steps, and sometimes falls down. There are different types of forgiveness, and some of them begin with little things: the man who picks up our winter gloves when we hurriedly stand to exit the subway; the neighbor who takes our laundry out of the dryer and folds it rather than dumping it on top to become wrinkled; the friend who isn't very interested in the movie we've been dying to see, but goes anyway just to keep us company. For the larger betrayals, partial forgiveness may be the only kind possible. But for the smaller ones, the kindnesses of daily life collect into a patchwork of forgiveness, a re-configuration of trust.
That's what I think today, but I haven't made my purchase yet. Stay tuned for details...