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What's Important

The last time Ray and Christy came for lunch, we had been discussing art. I had asked Christy if she thought art was important which she declined to answer because she thought the real question was, "what is important?"

We had agreed to continue our discussion the next saturday, but I knew the following Wednesday was a holiday, so I invited them both for breakfast. They arrived at 9:00.

Julie had ushered them into the kitchen where I was having a smoke and a cup of coffee.

Christy gave me a hug and little kiss on the cheek. "Hi Regi!" highlighted by her pretty smile.

"Hello, Christy. I see you dragged that one along. Are we never going to be alone?"

"Next time," she promised, but I noticed when she sat she was holding Ray's hand."

They both had coffee, and we began talking while waiting for Julie to serve breakfast.

"So," I began, "have you thought about what is important? Ray said last time he thought art was not important in the same way food, water, and medicine are important, because we can live without art, but not without food and water."

"That's right," Ray agreed. "I think art is a luxury. Nice to have, but not necessary."

"So is it 'necessity' that determines importance?" I asked?

"I don't think so," Christy said. "There are lots of things that are very important, but not absolutely necessary. I think running hot and cold water, electricity, and central heating are important, but many people in this world live without them. I think being able to read and write are very important, but even today there are people who cannot. I think mathematics is very important, and computers, and automobiles, but some people cannot even count. They don't die."

"Oh, I agree that all those things are important, at least to me. I'm not sure that those who do not have those things would consider them important," I said.

"But that sounds like 'importance' is relative," Ray said.

"Well it is, isn't it. Isn't that the whole point?" I suggested.

Ray seemed confused. "Regi, you always say that principles are based on reality and are absolute."

At that point Julie finished setting the table and was about to bring out breakfast.

"Julie," I said when she arrived, "this is supposed to be breakfast, not lunch. What is all this?"

"It's an omelet," she said a little huffily.

"It looks like a quiche," I said.

"Well now you'll know the difference, won't you" Julie informed me.

"It looks beautiful," Ray said.

"It's not a complement, Julie. He says that about anything you can eat," I informed her. "Thank you, Mr. LePage," Julie said, ignoring me. I caught Christy suppressing a giggle.

"I don't know why I put up with her impudence," I said indignantly. "Probably because you're in love with her, Regi," Ray mocked.

"Well it's not right for a woman to take advantage of a man's love."

"Well, what else are we supposed to do with it, Regi?" Christy asked, grinning.

"Watch out for her, Ray," I said, just as we began to eat.

After breakfast we went to the porch. I had a smoke and we resumed our discussion. Just before we had eaten, Ray had remarked that something I said made 'importance' seem as though it were relative. I had assured him that is what I meant, and disturbed Ray who reminded me I always said principles are absolute.

Ray began, "Regi, I'm still concerned about your saying 'importance' is relative. Doesn't that contradict the idea that principles are always absolute?

"No" I said, "words like 'importance,' 'necessity,' or 'need,' even 'good' and 'bad' are not principles, they are terms of relationship. Nothing is just important, or necessary, or good. A thing is only important if it is important to someone's purpose, a thing is only necessary if it is needed by someone for some objective, and a thing is only good if it is good to someone for something. Nothing is just important, necessary, or good, intrinsically."

"So ...," Christy started slowly, "for something to be important it has to be important to someone for some purpose or reason, right?" Her eyebrows went up and her eyes got wide whenever she asked a question like that.

"That's right."

"So ...," if art is ever important it is only when it is important to some individual for some reason of there own. Is that right?"

"That's right, Christy. Now can either of you give me an example of when art might be important, and to whom, and why?"

"I suppose it would be important to artists," Ray suggested.

"You answered the easy part, Ray. What about why? Why is art important to artists?"

"Isn't that obvious? It's their profession, their life. How could it not be important to them?" Ray's tone implied I was being a bit unreasonable.

"Yes, you are right, Ray. Of course it is important to them as their profession. Most of the artists I have known, however, believe art has some other kind of importance, something they call cultural importance, and they believe anyone who does not appreciate art and think it is as important as they do have something lacking in their cultural development."

"They're wrong!" Ray said with finality. Christy looked surprised.

"You're right," I said, and Christy looked almost shocked.

"But that is exactly what I meant last time, when I suggested art is a significant part of civilization. I meant a civilized culture," Christy said.

"Now that could very well be," I said, "but we would have to know exactly how it is important to civilized culture, and to what individuals that importance would matter and why? Do you think we could do that?" I asked. "A 'culture' doesn't have any ends or purposes in itself, does it? It's just a manifestation of what the individuals in a society value and do.

"I have a suggestion, since it's getting late. Why don't you two discuss this and you can let me know your thoughts on the question of whether art has cultural importance, and what kind of importance it has, if it does. Would this Saturday, say for lunch, be too soon?"

Christy and Ray looked at each other.

"It would be fine with me," Ray said.

"Me too," Christy said, "except I feel guilty about eating your food and not making a contribution. Can we bring anything?"

"Oh no," I said. "Just bring your appetites, and your pretty smile Darling," I said looking at Christy.

She did smile, too, dimply and sparkle-eyed.

"By the way, has he," I nodded toward Ray, "proposed to you yet."

"No he hasn't," she said, unflappably.

"Oh," I said. "Wonder what's wrong with him," I mused.

Christy grinned. Ray blushed. It was wonderful, and Christy and I laughed out loud.

That was the end of our conversation for that day. I was very interested in what they would come up with for next time.