Wednesday, February 06, 2013

What Do You Say?

I've worn a head covering to work every day for three months. None of the higher ups have challenged it (and I'm prepared to fight if they do). People have started to notice, though. And noticing means curiosity, and curiosity means questions. There's nothing wrong with questions per se, but what I thought would sufficiently answer just keeps going.

Coworker, "Time to get coffee, huh?"
Me, "Yep, it's either that or a nap!"
Coworker, "Why do you wear that thing on your head?"
Me, "It's part of my religious observance."
Coworker, "Oh, what is that?"

And here's where I falter. Not in suddenly needing to describe my faith, but in that it's not something that can be summed up in the 30-60 seconds of water-cooler office interactions- especially to someone who has absolutely no familiarity with a non-mainstream religion. I could say eclectic pagan. "What is that?" I could say Hermetic Wiccan. "What is that?" I actually had to specifically tell someone who just kept tacking on the whats, "if you've never heard of it, it's not something I can explain in a few minutes."

Now, I was entirely expecting to have to field questions about my head covering, but I honestly thought 'part of my religious observance' would be enough. After all, my faith and anyone's faith is completely irrelevant to my job. If I were being asked in a job interview, 'religious observance' would legally be sufficient and I would say so under the scrutiny of further whats and whys. I'm not ashamed of my faith and I'm not afraid to talk about it when there is ample time to devote to the subject, but that's not the point. Here, where we all have a job to do and are expected to be at our desks doing it, there is not ample time.

So under more whats and whys, I start stammering out things that make me sound utterly uncertain of what I'm saying, just in an attempt to give some kind of answer that would make sense and be enough of an answer to be accepted without further inquiry. That's never worked. There are always more questions.

Me: "I'm pagan."
Coworker: "Oh, pagans cover their hair?"
Me: "um, no, they don't have to, um, I do, because it's in line with my beliefs, um, because my matron goddess asked me to." blubber blubber blubber.
Actually, once I got an awesome response to this, "Oh, so it's like a sign of devotion." Yes! Like that!

But the "I'm pagan" follow up can go several ways.
Coworker: "What is that?"
Me: "well, uh, mine is a combination of Wiccan and Hermeticism that --"
Coworker: "What's Hermeticism?"
Me: "Um, it's a - a faith practice based on ancient Greek philosophy -- "
Coworker: "Oh, and they cover their hair?"
Me: "Well, not as a rule, no, my beliefs are based on that."
Coworker: "So, why do you cover your hair?"
Start over.

Coworker: "What kind of pagan?"
Me: "I practice a combination of things that resonate with my beliefs."
Coworker: "So, it's made up?"

Coworker: "I have a friend who's into that stuff."
Ok, I'm throwing this one in here simply because I hear it often. It really has no relevance to my head covering, but it is likely to launch me into a very defensive tirade about how very offensive it is to dismiss my religion as something I'm "in to." You can be "in to" skiing. You can be "in to" gardening. You can be "in to" woodworking but stop doing that and suddenly be "in to" knitting. "In to" is a hobby, it connotes an impermanence and a recreational importance. This is not religion, and if you view your religion that way, you're doing something wrong. But I digress.

Where was I? Oh, let's go back to "what kind of pagan"
Me: {more stammering, because this answer is not accurate. Not incorrect, just not the full picture} "My faith focuses on hearth goddesses, like Hestia."
Coworker: "Oh, what does that mean?"
This one prompted the 'I can't describe it in the time allowed' response.

I think all this means I need to compose an answer, something more thorough than "religious observance" but still offers enough information to curb further questions, or to at least be able to describe enough so that 'I can't describe any more' is acceptable.

So, if I extend my original answer to "It's part of my religious observance, it's an act of devotion to my path and my deity." There's plenty of room for "what is that" questions if I have the time, and still a sufficient enough answer that "I have to get back to work, there really isn't time to go into further details here" should be satisfactory. Right?

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