The Brave World of Globalization – First Impressions, London, 2015

The Brave World of Globalization – First Impressions, London, October 6, 2015

After one of those very long nights trying to sleep on a transatlantic flight in “cattle class” (augmented by two extra hours sitting in the plane on the ground before takeoff while technicians fixed a minor plumbing leak), we arrived at Heathrow, London, England at 10:45 am yesterday morning. Hazy, semi-conscious, aching, we stumbled through border control and luggage retrieval.

When we exited the arrivals hall, the car driver was standing there with my name on a card, as planned. But he was basically sleeping on his feet. It turned out he had not been given the message I’d sent to his company the evening before from Atlanta about the two hour flight delay, and the airport had not posted the flight as delayed. Nancy and I felt enormously guilty — though we’d done everything we could to alert him. And who knew that the plane would not show in airport communications as delayed? Isn’t two hours significant enough any more, in a world where estimated itineraries have been enormously inflated to minimize the number of late arrivals posted for any airline? There’s a surreal feeling about all this!

It’s been decades since I’ve been in London, and my memories are vague. However now, after 24 hours here, it actually doesn’t seem as though I’ve arrived in a different place from where I left to “jump the puddle” called the Atlantic. Have I become jaded as a traveler? I don’t think so. Rather, the world HAS become much more connected – the whole homogenized, even as every local place has diversified. In the airports at Raleigh and Atlanta, the service people had brown faces and variously accented English that had originated, mostly, in Asia or Africa. The same appears true in London. In North Carolina, the cars are a hodgepodge of brands from Asia, the US, and Europe. In London, the same mix of cars plies the roadways. The British do seem to appreciate black cars more than Americans. I saw my first black Toyota Prius. The color of the year in North Carolina seems to be red. The same mix of clothing appears in London as in the US – a wide variety of Muslim head coverings, as well as mini skirts, leggings, wildly colored sneakers, hooded nylon rain jackets, slacks outfits on women, jeans on guys. On the ride into the city, we did pass by one official looking building with people entering and leaving, and those men looked traditionally English – large, broad, bone structure, longish fly-away hair, gray suits with conservative blue or red ties, large dark-rimmed glasses, pasty white round faces with familiar flat features and anxiously raised eyebrows… But the women were the same international blend I was seeing everywhere – slender, small-framed, and dark-haired, striding efficiently on stiletto heels. We drove through the fabled West End, equivalent to New York’s Broadway – and realized that the same shows are playing on both sides of the Atlantic (it HAD seemed strange to us at the Tony awards last year that the shows we had enjoyed on a visit to New York and that had won the lion’s share of awards all were from Britain, with British casts.)

When we arrived at the apartment we had let for the week, familiar Ikea furniture and cabinets greeted our eyes. The laminate floors resembled those in our house in Durham. We have in our house the inexpensive Noguchi lampshades that cover the light bulbs here. The folding canvas chairs, compete with cupholders, available on the balcony, could have come straight from Lowe’s or Home Depot. The Sainsbury’s quick-shop down the street familiarly posts its opening hours from 7 am to 11 pm.
Some things are still characteristic of London. The many grand buildings, square after square, are solidly reassuring. Gabled buildings with numerous chimney pots speak of multiple fireplaces within, probably now unused. The double decker city buses are still bright red (while proclaiming on every vehicle that they’ve “gone green” – a symbolic, though not visual, hint of Christmas images probably not remotely suggested for Londoners). The black taxis still have the traditional high and narrow chassis – though the lines are now curved and so 21st century, and the size has shrunk considerably from the old model cabs. Every once in a while, a grungy corner pub with a clever name survives and clearly has not shifted an inch in its décor, menu, or personnel. And, of course, “Her Majesty’s” presence on numerous signs as on the now decimal currency interjects a frequent reminder of where I am.

On the drive from Heathrow into the city, I noticed the round European style speed limit signs (a colored circle surrounding a number), and asked the driver if the numbers still referred to miles, or if they too had shifted to metric measures. The driver (Pakistani) laughed and replied “Yes, we are stubbornly clinging to our miles, although every other measurement is now metric.”

I’m realizing that Britain, at least, is no longer a truly “foreign” destination. We are aligned so thoroughly, with the same immigrants, the same brands of products and commercial establishments, the same fashions, the same food brands (Coca Cola versus Pepsi Cola, Oreo cookies, Quaker Oats…) that the “Pond” has apparently shrunk to the significance of a pond – despite the physically rattling 5 hours of jet lag. I’m pretty sure that this phenomenon is limited to large cities – but even there, I’m reading of more and more second tier American cities with large and diverse immigrant populations, a situation I’m sure applies as frequently here as in the US. And of course, stores and products have become amazingly homogeneous in America, as here. I came here wanting to purchase a certain well-known brand of British walking shoes, only to find that they’re now more readily available in Durham, North Carolina than in London!

Apparently, we now need to go much further afield than London to reap some of the basic benefits of world travel – the dislocation to the senses and the mind, the challenge to preconceived habitual patterns of thought, an appreciation for the amazing variety of human ingenuity and sensibility.
I know, as our visit proceeds, that we will, despite the globalization of English speaking cultures, enjoy some experiences that we could have only here in this moment, and that we will leave grateful for those opportunities to stretch ourselves. And now, visiting Harrod’s Department Store has shot to the top of my priority list. At least there, from what people are saying, the traditional British shopping experience, enhanced by Harrod’s legendary flights of fantasy, has not only survived, but thrived. Hooray!

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Visit from a Baby

Today a baby came to visit – barely one week old.
His ears and fingers and his tender mouth, so perfect, so amazing.
He’s brand new within the earthly stream of life – all so strange and unaccustomed.
This hunger – what is it? It keeps coming back. I’m so in need. Need. Need.
I love the closeness of Mom’s large warm body – I need its touch, its radiating energy, its rhythm,
The vibrations of its voice – I remember those! They bring me back to when I floated,
Warm and fed and safe – when I needed nothing else.
But now, where am I? What am I? Getting here was such a tiring trip.
And yet, I think I might begin to know the joy of waking up, exploring, discovering, learning.
I might yet be all right.
But where’s that food I crave?
I’ve never felt such needs…. Nor the wondrous joy when they are met and all is well again.
I’m so happy to be held and loved – that too is new.
And Ah, the sweetness of drifting off to sleep —
And waking once again to life!

REFLECTION: Meeting Stanley, our newborn neighbor this morning was a gift. Of course, we’re programed to respond in wonder at the sight of a newborn – They are so small, so perfect, so amazing, so tender and innocent – and vulnerable. For some reason, I also, as I watched him against his mother in the stretchy, ingenious sling in which she carried him, was drawn to wonder what he was experiencing in that moment – one minute peaceful, and the next fretful. His mom said “It’s always time to eat with him.” Of course – everyone has passed through that newly arrived phase of being totally dependent on someone. How complete that need is in a neonate.
Most people as they mature grow to hate the feeling of dependency – and yet we continue to long for it all our lives. Being on earth, learning to flex with the needs of a physical earthbound body, is, by nature, challenging. Embodied life is definitely paradoxical. Everyone I meet each day is somewhere on same life path between the total physical dependency and need of early infancy, and the ultimate goal of rediscovering our total spiritual dependence on the Universe, in oneness with all that is created. We all explore illusions that we’re on our own, abandoned or in power – and then uncover truth, and know our oneness.

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Celebrating Oestera in 2015

Easter Blessings
April 5 2015 Easter Sunday

The smell of apple cider vinegar comes back to me
As I think back to childhood Easters.
The too pale eggs, no matter how long I dipped them in the dye,
The crinkly feel of glassy green strands of cellophane nestled in a brightly colored basket,
The hope on Easter morning that a magic rabbit had added something chocolate to the eggs and candy we already knew about.
I feel again the strange excitement about wearing a new coat and shoes and hat –
Because they were new, because they fed our dream of spring arriving finally –
Invoking season’s progress, nature’s resurrection.
We dressed for Easter every year,
Though we’d shiver in New England’s March and April chill.
What did all this have to do with Christian Easter, the disappearance of a sacred corpse
That Gospel grief of friends who’d lost their king and savior days before?
Not much.
Rather Oestera, goddess of the spring ,
Was celebrated yet again on her forever feast, by us who had never heard of her.
In ironic justice, we who thought we had moved beyond her pagan rituals
Repeated them, all unawares,
Acknowledging the seasons’ guiding role for life on Earth.

REFLECTION:
The childhood Easters I’m referring to occurred in the 40s and early 50s in Rhode Island and Southestern Massachusetts, in a staunchly Irish- Catholic family. I find it interesting now, as an Interfaith minister who is familiar with the traditions of many religious traditions, ancient and modern, that although we had no idea, back then, of the Celtic goddess of spring, Oestera, for whom Easter is named, every year we followed faithfully the rites of her ancient feast. It makes me wonder what others facets of our daily life spring from ancient customs similarly transmitted faithfully from generation to generation for millennia . To what extent do we now, today, amidst our technology and manufacturing, continue to live as did our distant forebears?

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Snow Day!!

Snow Day January 28, 2015

I remember waking in the morning, to the white of snow
Outside the window —
Mr. Frost’s designs inscribed inside the panes of glass.
What a sense of wonder – the world has changed,
Put on a magical new costume
That makes every little thing brand new.
But the overwhelming feeling is not so much my awe
As a deep, transforming breath of freedom –
Knowing that all duty has evaporated,
And instead of everyday requirements to get to school on time,
Play leaps to the fore –
Unbridled, unpredictable, unfettered, liberated play—
A gleeful abandon of sober obligation;
Exhilaration colored white and patterned frosty lace.

Reflection:

The gloomy, serious predictions on the television, foretelling the “worst” snowstorm bearing down upon New England, my childhood home, brings back to me a sense of glee that in my memory only attaches to the occasional morning surprise announcement of “Snow Day!” As I listened over the last couple of days to the preparations for a winter storm and realized that government offices have finally seen the good sense of making everyone — not just children — stay home when the roads will become impassable, I was surprised to feel again that overjoyed surprise that I thought had died with childhood. I mentioned it to a friend who had lived most of her life in southern California, who found herself unexpectedly grounded in New York in preparation for the storm, and was dumbfounded when she reminded me that, as a native of southern California, she had never experienced a “snow day” before. Oh! Of course, but… how bizarre it seemed that I could not share with her an experience that to me seemed so natural. All my adult life, thinking about snow as an obstacle to getting to work, I had never before talked with anyone about “snow days.” Now, I’m grateful to have a chance to revive that buried joyful memory – and to learn for the first time how particularly it relates to my childhood in New England, where big snow storms happen occasionally but aren’t the stuff of daily winter life, so a big one can unfetter everyone for a surprise day of fun.

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Thoughts on a Birthday

Birthday Thoughts Years after a Death

Today, you would be 83, beloved Bubbele.
It seems strange to hold you in my heart , on yet another birthday
Even though you left the earth those seven years ago.
I’m still so happy you were born.
I learned and changed so much.
You opened doors, your love still felt by many.
You are still my teacher, as I learn from you how a life, though ended,
Echoes forward down the ages,
How love continues on its way, as people you have loved
Give of that love to neighbors, friends, and family –
And they pass it along to others , who send it out to yet a thousand more,
An energetic ripple that gains power over time,
No longer named “Ellen,” but simply “Love.”

Reflection

My beloved Ellen (Ellen Scheiner, MD,) died in November, 2008. Today is the 83rd anniversary of her birth in Brooklyn, NY. She always used to say as a birthday greeting, “I’m so glad you were born!” — brilliantly shifting the focus of the birthday celebration to the beauty of life rather than the grim progression of years. I’m realizing, as I think of her today, how the world’s gladness that a person was born continues to ripple out even after that person has left the physical plane, and how the good that we do in life is eternal, even if it is no longer linked with our name. I’ve sometimes wondered if I would really leave a legacy. Today, I’m appreciating, for the first time, that the energy I’ve put forth in service and kindness will be my eternal legacy, as Ellen’s love and generosity are hers, echoing down the ages where she is remembered and — more and more — where she is not. Ellen, I’m so glad you were born — more and more as the years pass.

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A Winter Afternoon at Church

A Winter Afternoon at Church

January 11, 2015

                                                            

The sky is gray.

The trees are gray.

Their branches and their trunks are bare,

So I can see how, together, they created summer’s canopy of green.

The brittle winter light filters through the silent branches,

And even the two bushy gray squirrels following each other

Move slowly:  winter serious.

I’m inside — alone but warmed by recent memory

Of the  sparkling, brilliant energy

In this very room where we have spent the morning and

A part of afternoon, celebrating oneness and the joy of life.

The winter stillness outside the window’s just one view

Of the Truth we live outside and in —  both earthened beings and Spirit radiance.

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Reconnecting

Reconnecting

I’m free!
I’ve spent two days in vast, windowless brick boxes,
Places of health care, with countless people
Busy working on a multitude of tasks
That assume a lack of health.
Long, anomic halls stretch in all directions,
Brightly lit, but empty of humanity, of life.

In each room someone labeled “sick”
– Attached to some machine –
Is being tended to, or is just waiting.
The conversations never reference health –
But only assume sickness, lack.
When, against all odds, I’ve been allowed to leave,
I feel overjoyed to discover,
At this dusky hour,
A bright affirming sky, with flowing clouds and silhouetted trees.
I rejoice to find The brilliant sun behind the earth radiating its gorgeous pink to crimson light
Against a bright blue firmament.
I begin again to link with Universal Life;
I know again the truth of all that is,
That I am perfect as I am,
Expressing perfect Love;
That I transcend the bonds of any dreaded sickness,
That I am whole and well.
I feel glad and grateful.

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At New Year and Birthday

At New Year and Birthday

Air and life are timeless, limitless,
And yet we feel compelled to try to
Box both air and life,
To tick it off, to number it.
What difference does it make, really, that today I have not just moved through dream and waking states,
But rather marked a different, numbered year?
And why am I not just the person I was yesterday,
But rather now carry the burden of thinking
I have clicked into a different realm of age?
My life flows. It doesn’t move ahead in jerks.
I AM a breeze, a river, an awareness – not a clock or calendar.

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June 4 2014 Rodin Museum: It’s a Small Small World

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Musee Rodin June 4 2014 — It’s a Small Small World

We had heard that the Rodin Museum was a favorite Parisian hangout for many folks, and when a Meet Up was planned there for dinner on Wednesday, we figured it would be a good reason also to visit the museum.  It was another bus adventure — we found the 82 at Luxembourg where it apparently originates, and were astonished when it went around the Luxembourg Garden and took a short cut to get to Montparnasse within a few minutes.  Since we were planning to go to Chartres the next day, it was encouraging to realize that the train station from which we were leaving was that close to our familiar haunts.  

 Then the bus took us into what was for us new territory, and let us out in front of the Invalides, which hadn’t previously been on our radar.  It was a huge church building with an enormous gilded dome inlaid with beautiful mosaics.  Surrounding the supersized domed church building was an enormous hospital complex set in an even more impressive and perfectly tailored formal garden.  Apparently it was built as a veteran’s hospital in the time of Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of the 1600s.  It is so grand that it served as inspiration for many later domed buildings, including the United States Capitol Building in Washington DC.  Nowadays the complex is mostly a military museum, as well as a pantheon of French military heroes, including Napoleon himself.

 The garden is a wonderful formal French layout of perfectly sculpted evergreens surrounded by swirling paths, with the Eiffel Tower looming over the whole.  It was all so  beautiful and majestic.  We were surprised to get off the bus and find ourselves in such a breathtakingly beautiful place.  Paris has so many magnificent monuments and parks.  

 

The Rodin Museum was somewhere in the neighborhood, and after walking around parts of the Invalides, we consulted our maps and set off in search of it.  The famed sculptor Rodin mostly lived and worked in a suburban village called Meudon, where he had a house.  But late in his life, he had decided to leave his house, and rent a house in Paris, to work there for a while.  His personal assistant, who came with him, was the famous poet Rainier Maria Rilke.

  This Paris “house” turned out to be an elegant “hotel particulier” — an enormous mansion surrounded by a parklike property.  The house itself was closed for renovations and repairs.  However, we discovered that the museum was showing in another building an exhibit comparing the work and the esthetics of Rodin with twentieth century American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  The basic premise of the exhibit was that both Rodin and Mapplethorpe, in their respective eras and artistic media, were extraordinary explorers and artists of the human form.  This theme made a lot of visual sense, and the show, indeed, was both beautiful and interesting.  

Then, In walking through the museum garden, I was surprised to see that several of Rodin’s major works were here.  It was exciting to be able to walk around the Burgers of Calais (the bronze sculpture depicting 6 leaders of the city of Calais on the English Channel who had volunteered to be executed by the English King Edward in 1834, in exchange for Edward’s sparing the city from destruction by his army.).  Apparently the original cast is shown in front of the Calais city hall, in Normandy, the space for which it was commissioned in the 1800s.  But another cast that had been made was donated to the Rodin Museum so that we could enjoy it there.  There is also a Rodin Museum in Philadelphia that has yet another cast of the original sculpture.

Rodin did a beautiful job catching and portraying the sense of doom under which the six chosen leaders approached their execution. It is a beautiful, complex three dimensional composition, fascinating from every angle.  It is also monumental in scale — larger than life.  It was hard to imagine any foundry being able to cast such a heroic group of human figures attached to a base — a truly larger-than-life job.  

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The Burghers of Calais

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The Gates of Hell

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The Thinker

The get-together at the cafeteria of the Rodin Museum was very enjoyable.  We met a dozen or so gay people of different nationalities who are living in Paris.  It was interesting to talk with them and learn a bit more about living in Paris as an expatriate, and to hear their experiences in Paris and share ours. One of the people with whom we had an interesting conversation is an elementary school teacher teaching in an international private school in Paris — one where becoming a citizen of the world is a major curriculum objective.  He’s from Ireland, but has taught in several places around the world — including Georgia and North Carolina — enjoying very much his life of serious travel and exploration of the world.  It turned out that he had taught for several years in the public middle school in Atlanta that Nancy had attended many years earlier while growing up.  It was a notable example of the “small world” phenomenon!  

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View of the Invalides dome from the garden of the Rodin Museum

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Street view from the garden of Rodin’s Paris house

When we’d arrived at the Invalides, we hadn’t been able to see the bus stop for the return trip, and several of our new friends walked with us to the bus stop, to make sure we got back safely to our part of Paris.  One of them even got on the bus with us to make sure we transferred successfully at the Gare de Montparnasse, since the bus line we’d come on had stopped running (Some Paris bus lines do that at 8 or 8:30, which is very early in Paris) — so we had to take a different bus and transfer to our home line.  As we were riding on the bus together, he asked us where the apartment is that we had rented, and we told him the street.  He thought for a minute and said — Bob and Rick’s apartment?  Well, yes, in fact it is. Turns out he’s been to the apartment, as a friend of Bob and Rick.  The world is ever smaller than anyone can imagine!  How does this sort of thing happen?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Synthesis: Human with Stone

ImageSynthesis  June 4 2014

 

How can human flesh become one with ancient stone? 

 

This seems a challenging riddle.  But we experienced it last evening, in a concert presented at Notre Dame Cathedral by the choral school of Notre Dame.  Called the “Maitrise,” this full time training program for singers of all ages, started in the Middle Ages, as the cathedral was being built.  It has been funded again, specifically, by the French government since 1991, and since its re-establishment then has, to date, graduated approximately 60 professional singers who have become members of important choruses all over Europe.  In the tradition of the awesome Boys’ Choirs, young choral singers start their training while still school children.  By the time they graduate as adults, their voices, already chosen from the very best, are trained and developed as perfect musical instruments.  The sound is unbelievably pure and liquid, and they can shape the tones so they float and soar like swallows playing. 

They presented a program last night that was diverse, and yet uniformly ethereal.  It started with a Renaissance era sacred piece that the Vatican had held secret, for performance only there, for centuries.  This piece, the “Miserere,” by Gregorio Allegri, has – understandably – rarely been heard.  It eerily combined Gregorian chant and polyphonic harmonies – blending to perfection  the old and the new of its time.  Sung in Notre Dame, with the unbelievably pure, rounded, fluid, soaring  tones of the Notre Dame choir, it was heavenly.  The stately Gregorian movement of the individual tones harmonized perfectly with the rhythmic purity of Gothic arches and the profusion of stained class colors.  The music and the cathedral became one.  We were transported to Heaven, listening to the angel choir sing God’s perfection. 

The concert — all of it a capella —  proceeded through other pieces, mostly of the 19th and 20th century, and ended with the strange experience of well know Negro Spirituals set into refined classical rhythms and harmonies.  Each selection was beautiful in its own right.  But we felt incredibly blessed to have heard the Allegri piece in such a perfectly suited concert venue – to have had our moment in the presence of the Divine in art.  I only regret that it’s impossible to share it with anyone who wasn’t there – there was no way to preserve its perfect blend of music and place, except in the distinctly porous confines of our very human memories. 

It was still light as we left Notre Dame, at 10:15 pm, and walked slowly across the Ile de la Cite, enjoying the lingering sense of transport in the beauty of Paris at sunset.  We stopped at a sidewalk café – that other awesome delight of Parisian life —  and finished a perfect evening with loving conversation and companionship over the café’s housemade ice cream and a cup of espresso coffee.   In its finest moments, Paris can provide moments of supremely enjoyable sensory pleasures.

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