A Morning Walk and Being a Flâneur

A few years ago, Rachel Pieh Jones did a blog series called Let’s Go Flaneuring. The series was based on a French word flâneura word that was popular in nineteenth century France, particularly among writers. Essentially a flâneur was someone who walked (or rather – strolled). As the flâneur strolled, they observed. So they strolled and observed, and then they strolled and observed some more, and often they took notes or recorded their observations in their heads. But basically, it seems like a writing technique based on strolling and observing.

As I read more about the flâneur, I was fascinated by this idea of strolling in the familiar and in doing so, being able to craft stories from the commonplace. To take a step away from glorifying busy lives and instead embracing the idea of a slow and thoughtful stroll seemed not only delightful, but also wise.


I think about this today – a Wednesday morning. Usually I have one thing on my mind as I walk to work, and that is coffee. Coffee is my morning medicine, my adrenaline push, and my comfort in a cup. But I’m approaching a birthday, and suddenly I want life to slow down.

The sky is beginning to lighten as I get off the subway at Park Street and step out into Boston Common. Though the sun has not yet risen over the Atlantic Ocean I know by the light in the sky that it will be a bright, sunny January day.  I stop and look around. To my left is the State House, it’s gold dome already reflecting the morning light. In back of me, the Boston Common stretches toward the Public Gardens with tall buildings looming large in the distance. In front of me is the steeple of Park Street Church, a historic church that spoke out against slavery in the early days of the abolitionist movement.

I begin strolling from Boston Common up Tremont Street. I pass the famous Granary Burying Ground, Boston’s third oldest cemetary where the likes of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are laid to rest. As I reach School Street, a florist delivery drops off its morning boquets at the Omni Parker Hotel – cherry blossoms and light pink tulips. They are stunning, a sign that sometime down the road the bright and beautiful colors of spring will come. A woman nods at me, as though she knows what this flâneur is thinking.

I turn at School Street and head down to Washington Street. At the corner of Washington and School Streets, the bronze statues commemorating the Irish famine look at me in mournful memory. I smile. My family could tell you a story about my misunderstanding of these statues, but that’s for another day.

My office is a half block shy of the Old State House but instead of my usual “pick up the pace, there’s coffee in sight” I slow down.

Today I am a flâneur, and I don’t want it to end too soon.

But it does end. I’ve reached my office and the Starbucks right next door. It’s the end of this stroll. Work is calling, and I don’t get paid to flâneur. 


The problems of the city are not lost on me. Homeless still huddle in doorways. There is always an argument going on, even at early hours. Garbage is still wadded together, made mushy by the recent rain. City grime is ever-present.  But what better way to confront these and seek the welfare of the city than by taking a step back, turning my quick steps into a slow stroll, and learning to observe.

In the the middle of my morning prayers, there is a longer prayer about being raised up from sleep and despair by God’s compassion “that at dawn I might sing the glories of thy Majesty.” Taking a step away from busy and entering into the stroll of the flâneur gives me time to sing the glories of God’s majesty in the midst of Boston’s city streets.

When a Lion Needs Courage

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The Wizard of Oz is well-known by many. It is referenced in writing and in conversation; called an ‘icon of pop-culture’ for Americans. In terms of characters, there is Dorothy, a sweet cheery girl from Kansas who just wants to get home after she is displaced from the prairies to an unknown land. There is the Scarecrow, who longs for a brain, a Tin Man who longs for a heart, and a Lion who wants courage. Their journey is full of adventures as they set out to find a wizard in an emerald city who can give them what they most want in the world. The story takes us through their journey, until finally they realize that Oz is just an old man from Omaha, Nebraska who is a ventriloquist. He has played into the delusion that he is a wizard for years, but is now tired of it. Ultimately, he shows the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion that throughout the journey they showed characteristics that demonstrate they already possessed a brain, a heart, and courage. Getting Dorothy home turns out to be a more difficult accomplishment.

These characters are used regularly to talk about the characteristics of intelligence, kindness, empathy, and courage.

About that lion- I don’t think of myself as a timid person. I’m loud, strong-willed, and can be stubborn. My family can attest to the fact that I have a temper, and I don’t always use that temper in the right way. But there are times when I long for more courage in writing and in speaking. I long to gently, but clearly, speak into situations.

Early this morning was one of those times. 

Around 6:40 every morning you will find me at the subway station in Cambridge, waiting for a train to take me three stops into the city. The protocol is the same every day: the train pulls up, the doors open, you wait for people to get off the train, and then you step in, hoping there is a seat.

Today as the doors opened, a woman around my age began to step out. As she stepped out, she almost tripped. Our eyes met and I looked inside the doors to see what was blocking her. A much younger man had blocked the door, causing her to stumble and lose her balance. As I realized what was happening, our eyes met and we shook our heads. We were both puzzled and somewhat stunned. I looked at the younger man and said “Whoah!” He turned and shouted out the door “Call the f*&^@in’ police why don’t you?” The door shut and the train began to move.

The man was standing and moved across to the other side. He looked at me and shouted “f’in terrorists! Do you think it’s easy for me? Do you think it’s easy? I’ve seen people die!”  At this point, I got up and walked purposefully over to him. I looked at him and said “I’ve seen people die as well. A lot of us have seen people die.” He looked at me and stomped off to the other door, where he shouted at us again that none of this was easy. At the Park Street stop he got off.

At this point, most of us in the subway were shaking. It was a difficult way to begin a Monday morning. The subway is always a kaleidoscope of color and diversity and everyone was feeling the heavy weight of what went down. As a health professional, my guess is that he had PTSD and severe anger issues.

But it still wasn’t okay. It still isn’t okay.

As I relive the incident, I wish I had calmly but forcefully said “You need to stop.This is not okay.” Or I wish I hadn’t even gotten on the train, I wish I had taken the time to walk with the woman, to make sure she was okay and that she knew she had support.

I feel like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, begging for courage. Only instead of an elderly man who was living out a delusion, I want courage from God to stand up for what is right, whether in speaking, writing, or everyday living. At the core, I lack courage. I am a people pleaser and I want people’s approval. But wanting people’s approval stifles me and too often leaves me keeping my mouth shut, thinking after the incident of what I want to say.

The incident felt awful and I was in tears by the time I arrived at my office. Thankfully, I have colleagues of many colors and backgrounds who help me process and move forward. There have only been two other times in the nine years that I have been riding the subway where I was truly disturbed, and the reality is, it’s easier to handle when it happens to me than when it happens to others.

But it illustrates to me what my prayer and word for the year need to be. Quite simply, I need courage. I need courage to speak up stronger and better.

And so on this Monday morning, with my heart beating and my soul raw, my prayer is this: Lord have Mercy. Give me courage to get out of the safe bubbles that are so easy to find and crawl into. Help me to  confront the wrong in myself first, and then gently, but firmly, speak up for others.

In Memory of George

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George was one of those guys that I saw early morning. As I would wander up Tremont Street from the Park Street T Station he would be setting up in front of the Granary Burying Ground. This cemetery is Boston’s third oldest cemetery and the final earthly resting place for the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.

Outside of this historic cemetery, George would set up his earthly belongings. It was a perfect spot in many ways — never in the direct sunlight, but always in the line of visitors to Boston who might spare a dollar or two for the homeless.

So early morning I would walk by and we would greet each other. No matter how grey the day, George would smile. His personality showed through and as I would pass by he’d never fail to say “Have a good day Babe!” Maybe it’s because I’m daily growing older, but somehow I loved that he called me that. I never gave George money. We would just talk and then I would go on to work and he would continue on in his day.

It was the beginning of August that I realized I hadn’t seen George for a couple of days. Perhaps, I reasoned, it was too warm and he’d found another spot. Two days later as I passed by his place in front of the iron fence of the cemetery I stopped cold. Flowers adorned the fence and there hung a picture of George along with a typed story about him. I gasped aloud as I read it. The picture resembled a magazine cover with a banner over the top that read “Rest in Peace.” The bottom had these dates:

October 7th, 1972 – August 4th, 2016

George Dagraca, 43 years old, had died. 

I felt a sense of shock and sadness. I didn’t know George’s story, I had never heard it. We were early morning greeters and our conversations didn’t go deep. Turns out, he was a heroin addict, addicted to those highs that could temporarily remove him from some of the pain of his youth.

Along with the picture was a eulogy of sorts, by someone like me who met George on his daily walks.

We don’t fully know who we will meet in life, who we will touch and who will touch us. Many like me mourn his death and somehow that gives me hope. Because if we who barely knew him care about his death and mourn our short, daily connection, how much more so does the God who sees a sparrow fall?

My faith holds me tight in times like these. Earthly status means nothing to a Heavenly God. Whether our lives be small or great, he counts the hairs on our heads, the freckles on our noses. He cares about our habits, our diseases, and the addictions that sometimes kill us. This is the goodness of the Lord.

A favorite verse comes to mind many times when I walk on Tremont Street and I think of it today:

“I would have despaired, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage,  Wait, I say, for the Lord!”*

I walk up Tremont Street, a sky brightening over the Atlantic Ocean. Sparrows sit on the fence above George’s memorial.

In a sky brightening,in sparrows chirping, and in a homemade memorial I see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. And it is enough. 

You can read more of George’s story here. 

*Psalm 27:13-14

The Pulse of a City

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I hear sirens as I’m walking up from the subway onto Tremont Street.  I turn my head and see the blue and red flashing lights of an ambulance. Instinctively I know that the ambulance is heading to Tufts Medical Center in the heart of Chinatown. If I had seen those same lights on Storrow Drive I would know that it was heading to Massachusetts General Hospital. If on the Arborway, it would be heading to the medical area at Longwood.

I know these things just as I know the bus schedule, the subway schedule, where the homeless hang, and when traffic will be gridlocked around Boston University Bridge.

I know that on September 1st you don’t want to go out at all, because students are moving in and couches, chairs, and stuffed animals, symbols of a childhood that passed too quickly, fill the streets. I know when there is a Red Sox game, or a Bruins game. I know that the best night to go get cappuccino and canolis in the North End is Monday. I know the best Pakistani restaurant and the worst coffee places. I know the subway stops where I need to watch my back, and others where I could go on the latest train and be completely safe.

I suddenly realize that I know the pulse of this city like I know my own pulse. This city has become my city. The realization brings panic and assurance. Panic, because I’ve never lived anywhere this long before. I’m always the one who is leaving. When you’ve had a lifetime of moving, it’s not easy to stop. Panic because I’m not ‘from’ here – and I don’t want to be ‘from’ here. Assurance because I love the familiarity, I love the city, I love the early morning walk from subway to work. I love the evening walk from subway to home. Comfort because there is a sense of belonging that I never imagined I would achieve. Assurance in the friendships I have formed and the strange sense of community that I sometimes feel.

This is forever the third culture kid story – assurance and panic; belonging and not belonging; native and alien; comfortable and uncomfortable. We feel grief and loss with movement and we feel guilty and restless with stability. We are always living a paradoxical life.

How do we work through this paradox and continually adapt to where we have been placed?

I wrote this in a piece called “Homelands” and I stand by it today:

We learn to listen, to look outside of ourselves, to see others and remember it’s not all about us. We learn to grieve well, to use that holy gift of laughter and laugh hard, to cry when we need to. We learn that it is not disloyal to love two places at the same time. We learn the art of entry. We learn that ‘homelands’ can change, and we can adapt to them, adapt with them. 

We learn the pulse of a city. 

Anniversaries and Durgin Park


 My mom and dad met, courted, and got engaged in the city of Boston. They attended college in the city and when we asked Dad when he first noticed Mom, he said “Our junior year, when I was class president and your mom was secretary. I thought she was very efficient.”

And with those romantic words, an uncommon union was born.

So on Tuesday, to celebrate their anniversary of 64 years, we took them to a restaurant they remembered from their college years. Durgin Park is a Boston institution. It has been a landmark of the area since 1827. Their tag line is “We serve history!’ If walls and red, gingham table cloths could talk, they would have tales to tell. Instead, the people who tell these tales are the wait staff. If you want no-nonsense staff who talk back to you and tell you what’s what – Durgin Park is the place for you.

We were fortunate to have Gina – the head hostess – as our server. Gina is Sicilian and has worked at the restaurant for over 40 years. Behind her quick tongue and biting retorts is a heart that loves people and it warmed our hearts to find that she was sincerely interested in who we were. As we ate Yankee Pot Roast, Boston Baked Beans, and corn bread she sat with us and told us some of the history and stories of Durgin Park.

The restaurant served sea men who got off work at 6:30 in the morning. They would come over after long shifts to eat and drink. After a few drinks, they would say all manner of things to the women who worked there. After a while, these women tired of it and decided to give it back. And give it back they did and they do. You do not mess with Durgin Park wait staff!

Don’t go to Durgin Park if you want a quiet, romantic evening. Go if you want to find out more about Boston and experience the Boston that is so much better than the arrogant academics. Go if you’re tired of business men and women who rush through the streets in their chic black uniforms. Go to Durgin Park if you want old Boston. Go if you want to talk and be talked at; go if you want to be served history.

On Tuesday, we chose to be served history as we celebrated my parents. It has been 64 years of marriage on two continents and many houses and cities. The results are obvious. Five children, seventeen grandchildren, spouses of grandchildren and soon to be ten great grands. But there is so much more. The years of prayer and stubborn commitment; the years of travel that included too many goodbyes and hellos to count. And always the years of joy that were woven through all of it.

Durgin Park was witness to one more important thing in history – the celebration of my parent’s life together.

So if you get to Boston this summer, head to Durgin Park, ask for Gina – and tell her the family who celebrated their parent’s 64th anniversary sent you. If she needs further reminders, ask her about her hair dryer.

Thoughts on Pain, Justice, and the Tsarnaev Trial

Just blocks from the grey, nondescript government building where I work, three thousand jurors were called on to fulfill their civic duty. After filling out lengthy questionnaires they went through arduous questioning and cross-questioning. Ultimately those three thousand dwindled down to 12 with a couple of alternates. They were initially not known by name, instead they are Juror #1 all the way to Juror #12.

These men and women, under oath, will ultimately decide the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – the Boston Marathon bomber.

Today is the anniversary of that bombing, and last week the verdict came out. Guilty on all 30 counts. The next step is for the jury to decide whether Tsarnaev will receive the death penalty. It’s ironic that in this state, a state where the death penalty was abolished in 1984, that so many on the streets want this and more for the bomber. The hatred of this young man is palpable.

Cambridge was home to Dzhokhar for years as he attended elementary, middle, and high school at public schools. A picture of him at prom Junior year shows him smiling beside my daughter, she a year older than he. It was the year she was elected prom queen.

How long its been since that day! Though only a few years, in events its been eons.

News cameras circle like hawks around the area, as they have done for weeks. And those who are victims of the attacks continue to live lives of emotional and physical pain.

Boston, indeed Massachusetts has had a taste of the collective tragedy that other cities and countries have experienced at a much more prolonged and larger scale. The grief has given way to anger, and has moved now to relief that a trial is actually almost over.  Most people would say they “just want it over”, want justice to be served.

What is justice when it comes to events like these? What outcome will ease the pain of the event? What am I to think as I observe the events from the sidelines? Many who have been wronged never receive justice from the people or countries that committed violent acts against them. And then there’s Dzhokhar himself, recently caught on film in prison orange, feet chained and escorted by two guards walking him quickly into a building. I read an old article from The Atlantic written soon after the bombing took place that warns against empathy for the bomber.

All these attempts to get inside Dzhokhar’s head and understand his mental processes have an unintended side-effect: empathy. Just as reading novels is proven to increase our empathy, reading dozens of articles hinting at different possible motivations increases our empathy for the main character of this story.

Let’s remember, though, that it might not be deserved, that it might even be grotesque and wrong. We still know very little. We have a responsibility to try to understand context and not to whip up misplaced hatred. But we should also be careful not to invent justifications for a heinous crime, and even more careful not to suggest that our own imagined justifications lessen the suspect’s moral culpability.

In the end it just doesn’t matter how sweet Dzhokhar’s classmates say he is if he’s guilty of all he’s alleged to have done. [from Enough Sympathy: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Is Not a Victim]

Human justice can only take us so far, can only ease the pain of loss by small increments. Human justice can offer some comfort and solace, some recognition of heinous acts, but it falls short of providing real healing. And yet, it’s all we have.

Today on this anniversary I feel deeply sad. I feel sad, yet humbled and encouraged, by the victims, who continue to move ahead despite hundreds of doctors appointments, counseling sessions, and nightmares. I feel sad for the city, a city brought to its knees, a city so in control and proud that is suddenly out of control. And I also feel sad for a life wasted by a terrible choice to commit a crime that left so many injured, both in body and in soul.

But this I know: Evil did not win. Not that day. Not any day. It feels like it does, but it doesn’t. Evil will not, cannot win. While its effects are horrific, its lifespan is short, its days are numbered. Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness will win. For their lifespan is eternal.

I’ll end with the words I wrote two years ago: “And so I pray the only words I know how: Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer. Free us from our pain.”

Seven Feet Under

Boston and surrounding areas are literally buried in snow. The entire public transportation system – commuter rails, subway, trolleys, ferries – have all shut down. The only thing moving is snow plows and a couple of buses that are groaning and creaking their way along snow filled roads. We have had seven feet of snow in two weeks.

Outside our apartment is a mountain of snow. We think there is a car in there somewhere but there is no way to tell.

With far less snow I have been known to shake my fist and unreasonably yell at God and man, but this is so unbelievable that all I can do is shake my head in that disbelief. And laugh.

My husband and I plan our clandestine escape. We will leave jobs, home, everything and just go. We will go to warmer places and we won’t come back until June – when sunshine is predicted and all of life feels bearable. Of course, for this to work, the airport has to be open so even our escape is thwarted.

I’m doing all I can to escape the weight of snow – all the weight, not just the physical stuff but all it brings with it. Anyone who waxes poetic about snow has never dealt with seven feet of it in the city. (That would be Robert Frost who stops in the woods on snowy evenings….) A picture taken in the Southeast part of the state shows a parking space shoveled and heavily guarded by statues of Mary and Joseph. My friend sends it to me with the caption “I wonder who would dare take this parking spot!” Anything to add joy or humor to this seven-foot weight is welcome.

Who would dare take this spot

Here’s the thing: I’d love to indulge in a heaping helping of self-pity topped with whipped cream, but there are hundreds of thousands of people in the same place, and many of them are worse off. You can see it on the faces of people who get paid by the hour: when the subway or bus is late or doesn’t arrive at all, their pay check will suffer. You can see it on the faces of young, single moms just trying to get kids to day care and themselves to work. You can see it on the faces of the elderly, worn down with the weight of age and snow. And you can see it on my face.

It struck me yesterday while walking home from work that any thoughts of self-pity need to be replaced with solidarity. We are all in this together. We are all cold. We are all buried under snow. We are all tired. We are all late. We all hate Robert Frost.

I need to bury the self-pity seven feet under — like the car outside my doorstep. But can I indulge a moment longer? Just until the next snow storm due on Saturday?

Picture Credit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/48295380725/permalink/10153029374700726/?pnref=story

Our Shared World

shared world

I entered the bus with relief. It was dark from the early sunset that comes in December and raining hard. Cold wind blew raindrops that stung against faces and bodies as people tried to shield themselves as best they could.

But inside the bus was bright with light and warmth. Even though I was one of the last to get on, a seat was available at the front facing passengers on the other side.

“It’s pretty wet out there!” the bus driver looked at me and smiled. I returned the smile and nodded my dripping head in agreement. “But better than the white stuff – huh?” I laughed “yeah – way better than the white stuff.”

It was rush hour but no one was in a hurry. There was a sense of companionship and collective relief that we were all in this space – safe from the elements, warm, dry. The windows began to steam from all of us. There were nods, smiles, and shaking heads about the cold and the wet; the bus driver greeted each person with a laugh or smile.

We were a group of every color, size, and age. You couldn’t tell a nurse from a gas station attendant, a factory worker from a teacher – together in this space we were all on equal footing. City bus rides are not usually like this. There is always jostling, always someone angry, always someone taking offense. There is usually someone with serious mental illness and bus drivers are rarely patient in these parts. But this? This was different.

Like sitting in the warm sunshine, a feeling of belonging and contentment came over me. I was in the shared world of the city. I heard not a cross or angry word, instead all were just relieved to be there, safe in this space.

I thought about our world, so fractured so much of the time. Yet you don’t have to go far to find a group of people just like us – strangers all brought together by the circumstances of the weather, yet acknowledging each other as human beings, at the mercy of bad weather and difficult days.

I sat back and smiled, content for these moments, content to just be. 

Recently a short essay called “Gate A-4” that made its way around social media last year, resurfaced. The essay is a true story about a Palestinian American woman whose flight was delayed by four hours. While wandering the airport she heard an announcement asking if there was anyone who could speak Arabic and if so, would they please come to gate A-4. It was the gate where her delayed plane was to leave from, she spoke Arabic so she responded to the call. She arrived to find a woman, hysterical, who did not understand the message. She comforted her, explained the situation in Arabic, and the story ends a couple hours later with the previously hysterical woman passing around little date cookies called maamoul, common in the Middle East but not well known in the United States. The author makes this observation as she looked around at other passengers, tired but all laughing and sharing small date cookies covered in powdered sugar.

“And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” *

Here in this bus I know what the author is talking about. I know what she means. Because I look around and see the same – weary travelers on a journey, but no one apprehensive, no one worried about the other, all grateful to be there, warm, dry, away from the rain. The only things missing are the date cookies.

All too soon, it was time to push the yellow bar indicating to the driver that my stop was coming. I left the bus, entering into the cold and wet for my final walk home. But my heart was light and glad.

Daily we watch and read stories about a world that is not shared, a world that is fractured by disparities, suffering, killings, racism, and wars. But moments at airport gates and in crowded buses remind us that there is hope. Hope in humanity, hope that a stranger who is frantic and afraid can be calmed down and share date cookies, hope that people are better than they sometimes seem. It’s in these spaces that I feel belonging and hope. Hope for humanity and hope for community.

In these moments, in some inexplicable way our stories are linked together and we understand the truth:this world we live in is a shared world. It’s up to us whether we will serve date cookies or angry words. “Not everything is lost.” 

Blogger’s note: Be sure to take a look at the original story. You can read it here. 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/blur-blurred-bus-city-motion-16706/

Accepting Limitations, Pressing On

I’m back. 

If the cool 55 degree weather doesn’t communicate this to me, the solicitations and “compliments” (Hey are you married? You look my age! Will you be my girl?”) from a stranger do! And I hoped to God I didn’t look his age…..

Early this morning our plane made it in to Boston and we stumbled to our beds, our bleary airport eyes and bodies tired from travel. My dreams held the wonder of rest and sunshine, something I have enjoyed in abundance these past couple of days. My husband and I got away to a beautiful spot in Scottsdale, Arizona and spent four days hiking, swimming, sleeping, eating, enjoying. We can’t count how many times we looked at each other and exclaimed “just what the doctor ordered!”

And now I’m back, realizing yet again that there is no shortage of material to write about in early morning Boston. From strung-out young women to pot-smoking men; from Albanian fruit sellers to high-heeled business executives; from screaming homeless to sleep-deprived students to unwanted solicitations from inebriated men — every human condition and emotion is here.

And though every morning it’s a reality check, this morning just back from a place far removed from the chaos I feel it acutely. Because one of the things I realized as I’ve stepped away are my limitations in reaching into this world around me. What does life in the midst of this mean, what I am called to in the midst of my daily reality? I long to do more, to act more, to be more, to care more. But being away I am also reminded that all of this is way too big for me. I’m one person locked inside my own emotions and circumstances, sometimes aware, sometimes tragically (or blissfully) unaware. I am limited by time, fatigue, and apathy. 

So this reality check means facing who I am and what I can or cannot do. Accepting my limitations and pressing on.

Fall is officially here and with it a new season. The question that looms in my heart, in my soul is how can I better reach into this world around me? How can I better nurture my soul so that I know how to respond to my world?

What about you? How do you accept your limitations while still reaching out to the world around you? 

Blogger’s Note: The pictures give you a taste of my alternate reality the last couple of days – sheer bliss!

Grow Up Boston!

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a rant. After an experience yesterday with a woman on the street, in tears because of how she was treated by this ‘city on a hill’ I wrote this. It may sound harsh but I mean every word of it!

Grow Up Boston!

Every day I walk your streets, ride your buses and subways, go to your stores. Every day I am a part of the fabric, a thread in the tapestry that is Boston. Every day I work in your buildings, shop in your stores, interact with your homeless.

I am a part of you and you in turn have become a part of me.

And in so many ways I love you. You have so much potential, so much personality, so much fun.

But Boston — I’m tired. I’m tired of having immigrants come up to me on the street, complete strangers, and cry. I’m tired of the Boston stink-eye, I’m tired of the general meanness. I’m tired of crowded subways where the blind and lame are regularly jostled, pushed, and frowned upon. I’m tired of your arrogance.

Boston — you need to grow up. You need to realize — it’s not all about you.

Did you hear that? It’s not all about you.

Public Gardens and View of Newbury Street through a store window

When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon the nation wept for you, the world cried. There was support from around the globe, from the young and old, the small town and the big city. When you have a tragedy the world weeps with you, but you don’t weep with the world. Ever. Because, like a toddler, so egocentric in her development, you only think about yourself.

You boast so much: history, beauty, an ocean, a river, world-famous educational institutions, great food, amazing medical facilities, and more grey cells than we could count. You are Boston Strong with sports teams, and stamina, and guts. But you also boast grumpy people, arrogance, intolerance made more galling because it’s by those who consider themselves so tolerant.

You are creating a culture that despises the old, the feeble, the blind, the refugee, the immigrant. A culture that sits back and does nothing when a disabled, man in a wheelchair falls down and is mocked by a group of high school students. You cater so well to the student, to the ‘twenty something’ yet you have made them so all-important that they fail to understand the bigger picture of life and they are mean right along with you. You are creating a culture of ‘me first’ and ‘no one else matters.’ A culture where no one is given the benefit of the doubt. A culture where immigrants cry to total strangers on street corners, so lonely and attacked they feel.

“I’ve lived other places” they say “Nowhere is it so mean!” There’s always an excuse for why they’re mean — it’s morning, it’s cold, it’s rainy, it’s hot. Well it’s rainy and hot in other places too and they aren’t like this.” “I’m so lonely I could weep.” “I’ve lived here 12 years and still I wonder — will I ever belong? Will I ever feel like people are okay with me?” These are real words Boston, spoken by real people who live in your city and walk on your streets.

You have a hard heart Boston and it needs to soften. You are immature and you need to grow up.

You are so proud of your achievements — first in the nation to have health care access, first to have gay marriage. You are so proud, but you forget the basics — like kindness, honor, respect, and compassion.

Will you stay a toddler forever? Proud of your baby steps but never realizing there are other steps to take, a bigger world to learn, or will you grow up to be the adult, the adult who makes a difference in the world?

Will you ever, can you ever really be the proverbial “city on the hill?”

Tomorrow I will again walk your streets and love your beauty. And I will hope again that someday you will see the other side, the side that we who are ‘other’ see.

On Work and Charlie

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Let me tell you about Charlie.

I work in one of the busiest parts of the city of Boston. From tourists with money to spend to homeless without money, this area sees it all. There are the wealthy and the poor, the able and the lame, the seeing and the blind, the casual dresser and the sophisticated business woman.

And there is Charlie.

Charlie is completely wheelchair bound with a body that won’t do what he wants. He is dependent on people for all activities of daily living. His motorized wheelchair allows him to push some buttons and go short distances, but otherwise his chair and his body are prisons. A black bag across the back of the wheelchair holds his supplies for the day – water, a thermos of coffee, a small radio – he is in his own words a “purveyor of un-cool music.” Charlie is difficult to understand, but if you really listen he’s got a great sense of humor and a strong personality.

I first saw Charlie in a church we used to attend downtown. There he was, every Sunday at the end of the aisle. It was a later on that I realized he must live in the area because beginning with the first warm days of spring through the fall, in rain or shine, Charlie is outside. He is the eyes and ears of the area, taking in far more than anyone imagines.

The Charlies of our world make us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to interact or what to say. We feel guilty that we can’t do more and it is so easy to walk by. And Charlie can’t work. There is nothing he can do to be what our society deems as “productive.” Absolutely nothing. But he shows up, he is not despairing, he communicates as he is able and when people will listen.

So when I think about work, value, productivity, and cultural beliefs about work I can’t help but think about Charlie. When I think about a theology of work, Charlie looms ever-important.

Because if work is what gives us our only value than Charlie has no value. If work and salaries are what a society has held up as the only standard, than we must discard many in our world. More so, if this is all we have than we’ve nowhere to go but down hill.

In a sermon on work Tim Keller, a pastor at a large church in New York City says (and I paraphrase) this: When you understand the gospel, a gospel of grace you can rest from the need to find yourself in your work, rest from the need to have your sole identity and your soul’s identity be in your work. If you don’t, he warns, you will work yourself to death or become cynical. Our work is to be for God, for others, for our community. It is an expression of the energy and creativity of our Creator.

And it hit me yesterday as I saw Charlie – my work is for Charlie. Not directly, but indirectly. Being faithful to what God has given me, to where God has gifted me, honors the Charlies of our world; those who would give much to be whole, who would give anything to have Jesus come by their side and say “Pick up your mat and walk – go to work – go and do what you’ve never been able to do.” My work is part of the bigger story in our world – and that is God’s story. Not my story, not Charlie’s story, not your story.

Not only that, Charlie unknowingly serves as my teacher; a guide to what is really valuable in life and a representative of something bigger than I can really understand. And that is our personhood, the fact that we have value because we exist and are made by God. There is nothing else that truly gives us value. 

So today I work for God and for Charlie, and I’ll learn from God and from Charlie. Tomorrow I’ll struggle again – I know that. And in writing tomorrow I’ll work through some of the third culture kid struggle with 9-5 jobs and fitting into a western societal mold. But for today I pray I will honor the Charlies of our world by working where God has placed me.

I loved the comments from yesterday’s post – both on the blog and on the Facebook page. There was so much wisdom in them. Here are a few excerpts but head over to the post to read the full comments:

From Sharon: “I have always believed there is a dignity to work. As we seek to reflect God in all ways, we can’t ignore that our God is a creative, active God. Work is only “one” of the ways we are active. It can be drudgery or delight less by what the actual work is but more so what we bring to it.”

From Maureen: “We are told in Genesis essentially to work our garden, in spite of the weeds which will we will have to constantly remove—a highly repetetive and discouraging but necessary task. For most of us, working is in itself a pleasure, as long as we can imagine the final product coming: the fruit of our labor. When our work flows, when we see the light in a studen’ts eye, when a sick person recovers, we feel content and everything seems right with the world. When we hit snags, peope are unresponsive or deliberately obstructive, schedules stress or patients worsen, the weeds are winning, and work chokes our spirits.”

What about you? What are your thoughts on your work being part of a bigger story? On your work being partly for the Charlies of our world? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/disability-rehabilitation-wheelchair-224130/

Buy Between Worlds today! Head to Amazon or Barnes & Noble for your copy! 

far and wee – thoughts on spring from a lower case poet

forsythia eecummings

I feel like winter has reverberated across the globe this year.

Whether it be friends in Germany where the sun did not shine for weeks or friends in Minnesota, trapped in ‘always winter, never Christmas‘, or friends in the eternal summer of Djibouti that would give anything for the cool, freshness of this unknown season, we have all longed for spring. Two years ago I wrote this post but I resurrect it today. Because today the wind outside feels mighty cold and I am in a winter coat. But the colors are fighting with the temperature, for in their brilliance they proclaim to the world that it is spring in Boston.

So enjoy this post – and a happy spring from me and e.e. cummings. (In that order because he’s dead.)

***************

Spring in Boston deserves a post every year, for no matter what the winter has held, be it a snow fall of 85 inches or dreary rain and cold grey, spring in all its glory casts a spell on the city. Yesterday was a balmy 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky and today promises more of the same.

Forsythia and crocuses are the first to bring the promise of warmer weather and are a welcome color against the dead of grass and limb. Soon after come leaves of hedges and other perennials, added to the landscape the way an artist dips their paintbrush into colors of paint and with broad strokes creates color out of nothing. The banks of the Charles River enjoy foot and bike traffic as people emerge from the cocoons of their dorm rooms and homes to breathe deeply and feel the warmth of spring. Even drivers forget their Boston angst and road rage for a short moment. Everyone thaws.

Who better to bring us thoughts of spring than the poet e.e. cummings, native to this area? e.e. cummings was born in Cambridge and we have driven past his house many times. He went to Cambridge public schools, graduating from the same high school that my two youngest children have attended. Author of thousands of poems as well as novels, essays and plays, e.e. cummings had a magical way of weaving words and creating poetry. As temperatures rise and spring becomes official I’ll leave you with the magic of spring as expressed by this lower-case poet.

**************

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

[in Just-]

bY e.e.cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

************

Stacy’s muffins for today are inspired by her daughter Cecilie! Take a look here for her Mom-Bro muffins! http://www.foodlustpeoplelove.com/2014/04/mom-bro-coconut-energy-muffins.htmlEnhanced by Zemanta

Rules for Using Boston’s Transit System

MBTA_Boston_subway_map

Rules for Using Boston’s Transit System by one who knows.

Welcome to our fair city! There are a couple of things you need to know should you decide to utilize our ‘world-class‘ transit system.

1. Always sit in the handicapped space. Otherwise it’s just going to sit there empty and who really cares if someone who is handicapped gets on. It’s not your fault! So yes, sit in that space and don’t move, no matter who gets on the train or bus!

2. Do not smile. Just don’t. If you do people will think that:

  • You are crazy
  • You are a tourist
  • You have something wrong with your facial muscles. So just don’t do it.

3. Don’t talk. Just don’t. To show such enthusiasm for life is just plain not done. If you have to say something, whisper it quietly.

4. Do not shoulder surf. Shoulder surfing can be defined as looking over the shoulder of the person you are sitting beside to read whatever they’re reading. This is not allowed. If you do it, then your seat mate will clutch their newspaper or book close to their heart and give you a look. You don’t want the look.

5. Don’t sit beside someone if there is anyway you can avoid it. Head to the seat with a space beside it. If you sit down and have an empty seat beside you, make sure that you put your big, fat bag or briefcase down so that no one sits beside you. You do not want someone to sit beside you.

6. Do not make eye contact. You will regret it as soon as your pupils meet the pupils of another. If you do happen to make eye contact, look quickly away as though it never happened. This is best.

7. Do not help people. This is just stupid. You may find yourself a minute late for work and that is ridiculous. All for helping someone?? Don’t do it, just don’t help.

8. Make sure you push forward if there is someone lame or blind in front of you. It’s not your fault that they are lame or blind and besides, they need to just get out of your way already.

9. Do not thank people. This is just unnecessary.

10. Do not ask directions. There are signs for god’s sake! Just look at the signs. It’s not right to bother the rest of us with your silly questions when you could just look at the sign above you with all the squiggly lines and figure out where you are and where you’re going.

As always, thank you for riding public transportation and helping to reduce traffic congestion and pollution!

You’re welcome. 

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Glimpses of Christmas Joy

Yesterday I suddenly grew weary of ‘word clutter’. That’s when too many words and thoughts and ideas find their way from the abnormal glow of a computer screen or iPhone into my mind. From my mind they go to my heart and my soul. And yesterday I felt like there was, in the words of that great Ecclesiastical Teacher “Nothing new under the sun…”

So there are few words today. Instead I give you pictures of my world from a lit up Faneuil Hall downtown Boston to a family buying a frozen tree in hopes of holiday joy and white lights. May you find joy beyond measure this Friday — and may we all be free from word clutter.

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How about you? What images do you have to replace the word clutter? Share your images by sending them to communicatingblog@gmail.com with your name and a description and I will share them on Christmas Eve.

Learning to ‘Be’ Instead of ‘Do’

Learning to Be

In the spring I moved to a 4-day work week. Basically 40 hours in 4 days instead of 5. This is a good move for me as I needed the space a 3-day weekend provides.

But it also means that on Thursdays I’m tired. Really tired. I meander more than usual, I am unable to efficiently get dressed, get to the subway, get to work, and click control/alt/delete.

I’m finding that inefficiency is a gift.

I’ve found that in the inefficiency that is Thursday I stop and find out the names of those on the streets: those who curl up under the tall pillars of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral; those who cuddle concrete and brick walls close to ward off the cold; those who spoon together for physical comfort under tattered blankets, their hoodies pulled tight over their heads.

It’s on these days that I learn more about buying coffee instead of giving money; where I find out who needs surgery, who stole a wheelchair, why Sheryl is so thin.

I am not sure why this happens on Thursdays – maybe it’s because I’m tired and with my tiredness, more relatable. But I think it’s more that I give myself permission to be more than a machine, I realize how I live the ‘now’ is important, realize getting to work a few minutes late because I stopped to get someone a coffee is somehow worth it. It’s these moments I will remember when I can no longer work, not the efficient minutes in my grey cubicle.

There is a stark contrast of this Boston to the Red Sox Boston, to the Celtics Boston, to the Harvard, MIT Boston, to the Robert McCloskey Make Way for Ducklings Boston. And yet this is part of the fabric of the city and the people here don’t much care about that other Boston. Their lives are caught up in the crisis of today with its hunger, addictions, and relationship struggles.

I will never know how to “do” poverty; “do” homeless – and maybe that’s part of the problem. Before I’ve always thought of this as something to “do” and it is in the doing where I trip up. I alternate between guilt and pride, between true empathy and anger, between ignoring and connecting in a sickly sweet way that oozes pity instead of true concern. Maybe “doing” is all wrong – not what this is about.

Because on these days, where interacting is natural and comfortable, where there is no guilt, where I am tired, I learn what it is to just “be”. To relate human to human in the early morning fog of tired, steam rising from manholes, and the city in its pre-workday quiet.

Maybe it’s about “being” instead of “doing”. Maybe in being I learn to bear witness to the human story that gets lost in the doing. Maybe.

Image credit: wrangel / 123RF Stock Photo

I Love the City Until…..

Boston from Federal Reserve Bank Building

Last night someone broke into our car. I foolishly left the windows down – just one inch, forgot to lock the doors, and didn’t alarm the car. It was a, what do you call it? A sitting duck? Open game?

Whatever the idiom, there was nothing to prevent someone from trying to get in.

We keep little in our car. Some coins for parking meters – a city ‘must-have’, Kleenex, and Altoids. Altoids were strewn across the passenger seat. Quarters and dimes were gone, the thief randomly leaving nickles. My husband found the car this way well past midnight as he went to pick up one of our kids from the airport.

We live in the city, and I love the city. I love the bustle. I love being able to walk to get coffee, walk to get groceries, walk to the subway that takes me just three stops to my place of work in downtown Boston.

I used to sing with gusto the song “You’re the God of this City” by Chris Tomlin. I sang these words and I thought I meant them:

You’re the God of this city.You’re the King of these people. You’re the Lord of this nation. You’re the light in this darkness.You’re the hope to the hopeless. You’re the peace to the restless.

Greater things have yet to come, And greater things are still to be done in this city.

And then I’d repeat. And the second time I sang it was with even more emphasis, sometimes a tear catching in my eye.

I love the city – until the city turns on me. I love the city until I find out we were robbed and every cupboard and every door and every closet is open, the thief frantically searching for valuables.

I love this city until someone tries to steal my car. I love this city until my neighbors wake me at 2:30 in the morning, their dog bouncing a fake bone across the wooden floor.

I love this city – until I don’t love it.

I love this city when it’s good to me, when I feel safe and alive.

And when I don’t – I hate it. I hate everything about it.

My love for the city is completely conditional.

And in this early morning, as I work through how I feel, and I’m tired, and all I want is to move far away I realize how much my love for God resembles my love for the city.

I love God when He’s good to me, when I feel safe and alive.

I love God – until I don’t love Him. Until I question everything about Him and shake my fist in His Almighty face, forgetting that He is the maker of the universe, He is the God of this city.

So I sit, face to face with all my ugly, with all my fickle, conditional, capricious love.

And as I sit I know without doubt that, unlike the city, God hears my cry, listens to my anger, and continues to pour forth unconditional love on my soul.

Unwanted Bodies

Judge Chapin was a three term Mayor of Worcest...

Chances are you have not heard of Peter Stefan. Stefan is a funeral director at the funeral home Graham Putney & Mahoney in Worcester, Massachusetts.

His funeral home is in a poor area of the city and has been part of the community for over a hundred and fifty years. That’s a lot of funerals. That’s a lot of bodies.

And for Mr. Stefan it’s a lot of unwanted bodies.

Because one of his specialties is providing funerals for the unwanted. It is his modus operandi. He takes on the bodies of the homeless, bodies of murderers, bodies of those in what one commentator said were “unfortunate circumstances”, bodies that are not claimed, bodies despised by the world.

These are the unwanted bodies.

He doesn’t do it for money. Most of these unwanted bodies have no one who will pay the cost. He does this out of conviction – conviction that even the unwanted deserve a burial.

I heard a story about him on the radio and I can’t get the words ‘unwanted bodies’ out of my mind. The phrase keeps playing, an iPod on repeat.

Unwanted bodies. Those who no one claims

Unwanted bodies. No one in the world willing to connect themselves to the person.

Unwanted bodies. No one will grieve and many will say good riddance, a scum bag gone, someone who wasted society’s time, a life that deserved to die now in the ground. No sorrow there.

But Peter Stefan takes those bodies. He has done it for years but recently made national headlines because he took the body of the alleged Boston Bomber, killed a few days after the bombing in a police stand-off. He did not back down on his convictions and his convictions are that every person deserves a burial – no matter who they are.

I have no idea if Mr. Stefan is acting out of religious principles – but it feels right that someone would be willing to do this, it seems proper that the unwanted are buried, or cremated by one who is willing to do the unpopular.

For me the conviction comes as I pass by those unwanted bodies that are still living – for they are everywhere, and they are still alive. They are living, breathing unwanted souls. They come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. They are in every country, every city, every town. They are called the Dalit in India because India is at least honest about its class system. Elsewhere, in places where there is supposedly no class system, they are the unspoken unwanted, as if not mentioning will make them go away.

So what will I do when these unwanted bodies come across my path? Will I connect with them, communicate with them, attempt to understand their stories?

I’m not sure. While I like to think so, I know that it is easy to ignore that which we wish to ignore. How about you? What do you think of Peter Stefan’s willingness to take “unwanted bodies”? How does that sit with your soul as you think about those around you who are living unwanted?

On a different subject…..Check out this amazing photo taken by my brother and submitted to the National Park Photo Contest. The title is “Realignment” and if you think it worthy – you can vote as well as ‘like’ it on Facebook! http://www.sharetheexperience.org/entry/11432599

Exploring TCK Bigotry

DSCN4615With thanks to Stan Brown for the topic and the wisdom of his response to yesterday’s post….

This one may hurt; may pack a punch and result in a bruise. But bruises heal and scars show that our hearts are alive to pain and growth.  

My post yesterday hit several of my nerves – I regretted posting it as soon as I hit publish. But as is often the case when we are honest, others come forward with the same struggles and share wisdom.

It was my brother Stan’s comment that challenged me to look further at prejudice and bigotry in the third culture kid: “There’s a series topic here for you Marilyn: Exploring TCK bigotry……”

Full disclaimer: In this area, among sinners I am chief.

To the non third culture kid – let me explain: Our life circumstances have gifted us with many things — a love of travel, flexibility, a strong identification with others who have lived abroad for extended periods of time, and a world view that extends miles, nations, and borders past our passport countries.

But along with that we struggle with being invisible immigrants – people who look like those who surround them but think so differently that they feel like chickens in the midst of humans, or aliens in the midst of natives. We are those who feel ‘other’. We don’t know the rules and make massive mistakes in our passport countries. We can be arrogant about what we know and insecure about what we don’t know. We are the only ones without a license, without a sense of fashion, without the common language of idioms and pop culture.

And though it’s difficult to voice, we are prone to prejudice and bigotry in our passport countries. This is ironic. That which makes its mark on us with indelible ink and shouts flexibility, adaptability, maturity and fun is suddenly hidden under disdain and inability to relate to those around us. Mark Twain wrote these words years ago – and those of us who are third culture kids love these words:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Yet what happens when that quote we love turns on us? Like pointing the finger at someone, and suddenly realizing the other fingers point back in our faces?  What happens when we take all that life experience — travel, cultural humility established through many years of negotiating cross-cultural interactions, our ability to understand dual causality and be capable of complexity — and turn it into weapons against those who have not traveled?

We become that which we dislike. We become narrow-minded in a reverse way. We become the dictionary definition of a bigot “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”.

My faith tradition comes down hard on prejudice and arrogance. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,”*

“That’s simplistic” I want to cry out “It doesn’t take into consideration that this is hard for me, that I struggle with feeling ‘other’ and so out of step with those around me, that this is all I have.” The words above from the Holy Scriptures dance in my head but they need to be imprinted on my heart.

Stan’s comment from above didn’t end there. It goes on and challenges me further:

“So my problem is this and more – I find myself alternating among prejudices depending on where I am geographically. Sometimes I find myself feeling prejudice against my passport countrymen; then against my birth nation; then against my fellow TCK generation and, not surprisingly, mostly then against myself for feeling this way. Thankfully the opposite happens more and more where I find myself rejoicing in the diversity of cultures, appreciation for my passport country, and, again not surprisingly, at peace with myself.”

And hear this for it is critically important to the discussion:

“The degree of my prejudice seems directly related to the amount of direct and personal interaction I have with people of a variety of cultures (listening, learning) or, on the other hand, how much time I spend avoiding such interaction, leading to introspection and bigotry.”

When you sit down and learn about someone, see them as a person and get to know them, it changes the dynamic. I learn that the person who has lived in the same town since childhood went to a Catholic school in a poor area of Boston and tells amazing and humorous stories about the priests and nuns.  I learn that a friend with an Irish background grew up in an all Italian neighborhood and learned early on, as she went from house to house eating pasta before finally heading home to her mom’s boiled cabbage dinners, that she liked Italian food better. I learn that someone who has lived in the same town her whole life is a voracious reader and can talk about all kinds of places where I’ve never been with a knowledge far beyond mine.

And I begin to remember – it’s all about relationship. It was the key to loving my adopted countries, it continues to be the key to living in my passport country. As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I’ve had to re-learn the value of relationships, of give and take, of knowing and being known as a fundamental antidote to my TCK bigotry.

The antidote can be summed up like this: When I learn the story of another, when I’m willing to be in relationship, it’s hard to remain a bigot. 

What about you? No matter who you are or where you live, prejudice and bigotry can be subtle. Do you struggle with prejudice and if so, what is your antidote? 

Take a look at this piece, published in Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging called “Saudade” – a Word for the Third Culture Kid

*Philippians 2:3