A piece of paper, a piece of cloth

While on our summer vacation, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a place I commend to your visiting.

The first thing I went to see was the Magna Carta (or, apparently, just Magna Carta without the ‘the’.) This copy, only one of four, was on loan from some place in England where it had never before left. I’m a little fuzzy on the why/how of its being at the MFA, but there it was in Boston and there I was in Boston so I went to see it.

It’s a small thing, really, for something of such monumental importance. A little more than a foot square, an 800 year-old piece of paper inscribed in Medieval Latin, the stuff that would undo a king, inspire patriots, and generally bend the arc of history ever so slightly more toward justice. It is the work of men, of landowners and taxpayers, of citizens.

I confess to getting choked up while looking at it, this little old piece of paper, getting choked up the way I get choked up singing “America the Beautiful ” or “For All the Saints.” I could blame end-of-vacation tiredness, or gratitude for the privilege of being able to see it, but I think the tears were about something else. I think they were about our dreams, our dreams for something better not just for us but for everyone.

I found a Kleenex and moved on to an exhibition of quilts. Large, colorful, no words but tens of thousands of stitches; the work of women. The work of women who were not dreaming but who were eking out life and comfort, gathering the scraps and the leftovers and the rags to make something new out of the old.

None of the quilts, beautiful as they were, made me cry, but a few took my breath away and a few I wanted to wrap around me while sitting in my favorite chair and reading. Not the stuff of dreams, these quilts, but very much the stuff of reality. The reality of “women’s work”; the reality of cold winters and scraps of clothing; the reality of women coming together to provide and create.

All this on the day when my vacationing friends and I were lamenting the SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Not a lot of dreaming in that one but a whole lot of reality; clearly the work of men and not of women.

I know there are plenty of men out there who find the Hobby Lobby ruling outrageous, just as there must be plenty of women who take comfort in knowing that their religious preferences have been upheld. (Just writing that sentence makes me foam at the mouth a little.)

It is not my desire to restart any battle of the sexes. I think we’ve had enough of those. But I do wonder how things might be different if more men collected little pieces of fabric and made quilts. And I do wonder how things might be different if women had been allowed to write those little scraps of paper so long ago.

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