Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life

By Jean Bethke Elshtain | Go to book overview

5
COMPASSION WITHOUT
CONDESCENSION

The Child and the City

IN EGYPT, IN LATE WINTER OF 1912 to the early spring of 1913, Jane Addams found herself thinking about death. As she reflected, she sensed a tensile strand of memory and experience stretching across a vast distance—from the pyramids of Giza to the village cemetery in Cedarville, Illinois—and threading together past and present time. Something odd was happening, something that she "was totally unprepared to encounter." She observed that she was accompanied "by a small person with whom I was no longer intimate, and who was certainly not in the least responsible for my present convictions and reflections." 1

Rather than shooing the small person (the child-self standing alongside her adult-self) away, she opened herself to experience anew a part of her life that had long lain dormant. Can like moods link generations and connect diverse cultures? Her answer is Yes; but a precondition for this possibility is the patience to pay close attention to sensory experience, remaining in a receptive mode. Her encounter with the ancient tombs and her musings on the Theban hills revealed to her that somehow she—and indeed all mortals—had been where the Egyptians had been, preoccupied as they were with the "presence of death." 2 It occurred to her then that a "sincere portrayal of a widespread and basic emotional experience, however remote in point of time it may be, has the power overwhelmingly to evoke memories of like moods in the in

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