There is so much going on in the world that it is hard to know where to start this blog post so I am breaking it down into shorter, more digestible bites for the Thanksgiving holiday. There are three parts, all of them semi-related. You can read it in one go and gorge yourself, or read slowly and savor it. If you read the news, watch TV, or listen to the radio, it is pretty ugly outside. The news cycle just keeps coming so it is really going to be hard for me to thread the needle and weave this all together. I beg your patience! All of the links I am trying to embed are not working either so please sort this out yourself if you are interested.
I was lying in bed the other morning thinking about all this stuff when I realized I should just get up and write it down. Because that is what Elizabeth Gilbert would want me to do. In her new book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, the author of Eat Pray Love shares her thoughts on the virtues of a Creative Life. Much like Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hours one needs to master a subject, discipline, or vocation, Ms. Gilbert is also big on persistence (part IV), slogging through on a daily basis. So despite the fact that I have a small (but loyal) following, I continue to write at my leisure. Admittedly, sometimes hardly at all. But I always come back.
Initially I blogged because it was a good way to share the crazy stories of my life in various countries, the stories that are difficult to share over the phone. A lot is lost in translation. Also, some of the memories are rather sacred and I wanted to leave a footprint for my children to follow: We Really Did That?!
Plus, I like to entertain. No one is paying me to do this and as Liz Gilbert would say, Nobody’s Thinking About You (me).
Now, my last post about Lincoln the kitty everyone just loved. I spent about 50 minutes writing it and about 5 editing it. It is not perfect but ni modo, as the Mexicans would say. (I can hear Liz clapping – she is not a fan of perfection). In any event, when I was writing it I didn’t feel like it was a special post, just one that delighted me to write, much like watching the kitten play with the strings dangling from the aprons hanging on a hook in the kitchen. How can I not share that joy?
Most of my creativity has gone into being a wife, mother, and expat princess. But in 2014 I embraced the notion of throwing my desires out to the Universe as well as the practice of saying yes. I do not know from whence these ideas came (for sure a compendium of sources) but it worked out well. For I do believe that God is listening and conspiring to give us the things we need most (although, not necessarily according to our schedule).
Also, I spent most of 2014 walking, which left little energy for writing. My biggest project was to get my Compostela from the Cathedral of Santiago, which with the aforementioned wonky ankle was going to be a challenge. In order to receive a certificate of pilgrimage, one has to walk approximately 100 miles, getting stamps on one’s “passport” along the way. Naturally, due to my fear, I wanted to do it the Princess Way, not sullying my hair with lice or my body with bedbugs, so a real bed was a necessity; a rescue van was also important.
Now, I did not get the idea to do this because I watched the film The Way starring Martin Sheen* and directed and written by his son Emilio Estevez, although that was enormously interesting to watch. I did not do this because I am Catholic (I am not). I did this because I had read about the Camino de Santiago decades ago and thought it was a neat idea at the time. Then I moved to Spain, where culturally (if not religiously) it is a big deal. A big deal I did not have time for when I actually lived there. So, to mark my upcoming 50th birthday, I decided to walk the last 100 miles or more with my dear friend Maria the Dentist. (I did not have time, courage, or body to walk the full 1500 miles). The theme of my pilgrimage was “gratitude” and the theme of Maria’s was “friendship”.
My own personal pilgrimage ended last year in Paris, having completed the walk in Spain without needing assistance beyond bandaids, antiseptic, and Percocet. I did not blog about my experience, mainly because I wanted to write about it length, as so many crazy wonderful things had come out of that year and that trip. Not part of the Camino, I felt certain my journey had to end in Paris at a certain place. (This is as equally significant a part of the story but for reasons of time and space I am going to omit here.) Suffice it to say, I will always have Paris and I will always have had Paris with some of my favorite people on the planet – people who said yes to the universe and, I am guessing, are super happy they did. (And on that note, exactly only one of them reads this blog …. no one is thinking about you! ha!)In short, it was a glorious year; it was BIG MAGIC. Mr. Understanding is oh, so understanding!
And then my 50th year happened and it was a shit show.
Gone was the theme of gratitude! Trust – out the window! Faith went the way of the baby and the bath water. So, so disappointing. This year I have had to confront my many failures. Such as the failure to write one word about my pilgrimage before now.
I could not have toughed out the last year if it had not been for living the former. There were/are some difficult lessons still to be mined from that year. Lessons for which I am ultimately thankful, just like I am for the bedbugs I got in the American chain hotel in Paris. Oh, the irony.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Entertaining Angels
Sometimes, one receives invitations that can only wonder at how they show up in your inbox. Sometimes, you can convince your spouse to accept such an invitation with you. Such was the case when a pair of Dutch lesbians invited us, via a third party, to their home this past summer for a talk on terrorism. These women are also Jewish.
Two weeks ago, on 11/11, I was invited to lunch by Evelyn and Rosa. In the intervening months since the summer talk, a documentary was made about them by The Blaze TV, a production company of the Mormon Libertarian conservative commentator, Glenn Beck, a man fond of using chalkboards* to diagram his thoughts.
Wait a minute! Back up! Glenn Beck paying money to produce a documentary about a) foreigners, b) lesbians, and c) Jews???? What a mind bender! But he did it and the documentary aired on 11/19, as previously scheduled. The documentary is about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and how the couple decided to move to America to pre-emptively avoid it. The genesis of the story was a letter Evelyn found in the back of a book she found sorting through her mother’s effects after she died. Written to her fiance who had gone into hiding just before World War Two ratcheted up, Evelyn’s mother recorded being liberated by the Americans. She and her family had been jammed into a train for ten days at the end of World War Two, bound for the gas chambers.
Evelyn and Rosa, both children of Holocaust survivors, are intent that a Holocaust never happens again. And rather than being silent, they are choosing to speak out, something they do not feel free to do in their own country but which is still an option in America, a country for which they are thankful. There are several trailers for the documentary.. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is featured in the one found on The Blaze TV site but the longer version can be found here at neveragainisnowfilm.com and features Rosa and Evelyn.
In the Land of Plenty we have a surfeit of almost everything. What we do not have, however, is an attention span greater than that of a gnat. How can we not remember a horrific event from seventy years ago? How can we not care? How can we not remember the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year? Or the Ethiopian Christians singing out to Jesus on the beach as the jihadists swung their swords? What about the downed Malaysian/German/Russian airplanes? How about forgetting a pilgrimage, a project with a nine month gestation with the theme of gratitude????
When we lived in Spain, we went to Germany twice as family, both times at Christmas to visit the Christmas markets. The second trip was to Nuremberg to visit the oldest market in Germany. Site of the famous trials post WW2, it is also home to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Now, you may think it strange (it is) but we took our children to this museum one afternoon as a juxtaposition of dark to the light of Christmas. The museum details the self-deluded, grandiose vision of perhaps the world’s greatest megalomaniac and sociopath Adolph Hitler. Compare/contrast: Jesus v. Hitler; inclusion v. exclusion. As important as Jesus is, it is also important to note your surroundings, pay attention, and remember history.
As humans, we have to force our heads out of the sand. It is comfy down there, all warm and balmy. But we are breathing in sand, folks. Why not pop your head up, look around, and say hmmm, how can we help this situation knowing there is no quick fix? Addressing the elephant in the room is above my pay grade but it’s something I am going to think about and educate myself on.
This week we invited Rosa and Evelyn to a joint Jewish/Episcopalian Thanksgiving service. They have not lived in our community that long but love it more than I do. As former expat to current expats, it is important to me that they experience the good part of America, the part that invites the stranger who is so different over to their house for a meal.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV.)
I posted the trailer for the film on my personal Facebook page (i.e. the Universe) and about 6 people liked it. I think the sand-eaters never got past the words The Blaze. A missed opportunity to expand one’s mind just a bit if ever there was one, but then I remembered “nobody’s thinking of you” and let it go. Bye Bye. I did my job, sending it out there.
Culturally, in America, it seems that the Christmas is actually beginning to preceed Thanksgiving. The cups are red at Starbucks, Amazon is advertising their pre-Black Friday deals, and the Christmas crap was out at Costco by October (maybe late September). Do we really need that long to get ready for one day?
As it turns out, the Advent season used to be six weeks. You had six weeks to prepare your hearts for the birth of Jesus. But even the church ended up thinking that was too long a period of reflection and lopped off a few weeks.
Frankly, it is all I can do to prepare for Thanksgiving. The first step is to get all my kids home (2/3 today). The second is to make a shopping list (done). The third is to dig the turkey out of the freezer and start defrosting it (done). Someone else will move the crap off the table and set it using the fine china. Eventually, a meal will get made, a meal that only the five of us will share because that is what we need this Thanksgiving. We will give thanks for Lincoln the kitty, for Abraham Lincoln who institutionalized the holiday, and all the freedoms that America affords.
In The Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy of Eucharist is entitled The Great Thanksgiving because the word eucharist in Greek actually means thanksgiving. When we eat a meal together, communing in fellowship, we are tapping into our primordial roots. Eating together is a part of all the major religions.
The Greek word “to eat” – trigo** – means to gnaw on, to really rip the meat off the bones. So, although I for one, will be dining on Jesus during Advent I think Americans, particularly, are anxious for Christmas to get here, to have a party. They do not know this but they are actually longing for Emmanuel. We can party our way out of this mess, down here in the sand! And jihadists probably don’t know this but they are actually hastening Jesus’ second coming, what with their global jihad. Oh, oh, oh, the irony.
To conclude this post, I quote Elizabeth Gilbert’s mother, “Done is better than good.” Go enjoy your family, invite a stranger to a meal, watch a documentary, or crawl under the covers with some Big Magic and figure out how to live creatively without fear.
*If only Martin and Emilio could get Charlie to walk the path.
**Interestingly, this word means “wheat” in Spanish and Portuguese.