Christmas on Beacon Hill

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Photo Credit: Suzana Alves

Just a short walk from my workplace is Beacon Hill, a historic Boston neighborhood with narrow brick streets, antique gas-lit lamps, and row houses. Beacon Hill is beautiful and quintessentially Boston. Visitors from around the world walk through the streets, finally making their way back to the red-bricked Freedom Trail that winds through the city and highlights famous places and events.

At Christmas time, Beacon Hill is a local favorite where twinkling white lights beckon and classy green wreaths with gigantic red bows adorn doorways. Beacon Hill is an expensive area of the city to live, but there is no cost to walk through it and dream. It represents a fairy tale sort of Christmas and leaves one with starry-eyed longing for a past that never was.

My childhood was lived on the other side of the world from Beacon Hill and yet, one of my favorite childhood Christmas stories was a story from Childcraft called “Christmas on Beacon Hill”. I remember only vague details of snow, lampposts casting shadows on streets, large bay windows in a Beacon Hill home, and a little boy named Benjy. In the story, I think he wore knickers.

My mom would read us the story as we lounged on couches and chairs in the southern area of Pakistan, where our reality was worlds apart from the story’s setting.

We had sunny Christmases with Poinsettia blooming bright in the winter desert. The sounds of ox carts and camels replaced any sleigh bells and instead of church bells we had the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. Our Christmas trees were sharp Palm fronds stuck into a clay container, homemade and heirloom ornaments hanging precariously on the dusty palms. Christmas carols would play from an old cassette tape or a turntable in the corner; songs that we knew by heart, even if our surroundings had no white winter wonderland. Even if white Christmases were only in our dreams.

On Christmas eve, carolers from the local church would come at midnight and the strong voices of people joyously belting out Joy to the World in Urdu still stays in my memory.

Despite this, when we would sit down with hot cocoa at the end of the day and listen to my mom reading, I was drawn to this faraway place called Beacon Hill, where brownstone brick houses sat side by side, and snow fell on Christmas day.

My mom’s words brought me in to a distant world, covering me like a thick blanket with longing for something I had never known. She knew about Beacon Hill and snow sparkling on sunny, winter mornings. She knew about sleigh bells and bay windows, about Christmas holly and snowmen. There must have been times when New England winter memories held deep, unspeakable longing. She passed on these treasures through reading, through the tone of her voice, through her love for place.

Some traditions are not portable, and to try to replicate them will only frustrate and cause more longing. Other traditions can be transported across oceans and cities. Mom discovered that reading is a portable tradition. Reading can bring us into worlds and places that we have never seen. We walk on streets we have never traveled; we enter doorways of houses where we have never laid our heads; we laugh with people who don’t exist. Sometimes we even grow up to live in places that we only knew in books.

It is now many years later and every day I walk close to Beacon Hill, close to those row houses with their beautiful wreaths on the doors. And at Christmas time I think about that story read to me so many years ago, and I miss that brown desert world where Poinsettia bloomed bright. I miss that home a world away where a mom from New England raised five kids to live between.

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

Books with quote

Two years ago, I asked this question…but Communicating Across Boundaries has grown exponentially since then, so I’m asking it again.

The task is simple but oh so hard! Pick three books on your bookshelf that summarize you. What three books give us a snapshot of your life?

This was introduced by National Public Radio’s ‘All Things Considered‘ show a couple of years ago and I loved it so much I want to use it here at Communicating Across Boundaries. Anyone who responds in the comments will be put into a drawing to receive one of the books that is a snapshot of my life.

So let’s get started! My three are:

1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Katherine Boo takes us into the stories of real people living in the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. The slum shares walls with the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. This ethnically diverse community lives in close quarters, daily confronting poverty, violence, conflict, illness, and government corruption. Because I love the Indian subcontinent this book resonates at many levels.

Quote: “.. becoming attached to a country involves pressing, uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens.” 

2.The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World by Lucette Lagnado. This book is my heart book and chronicles the journey of a Jewish family from their home in Cairo through their adjustment to life in New York City. There is so much I love about this book, not least is its descriptions of how much this family misses Cairo and their cry of “Ragaouna Misr” (Take me back to Egypt!) that still echoes through my soul.

Quote: “We had barely drifted out of Alexandria‘s harbor when I heard my father cry ‘Ragaouna Misr!’ – Take us back to Cairo! It became his personal refrain, his anthem aboard the old cargo ship…”

3. Some Far and Distant Place by Jonathan S. Addleton. Jonathan is a childhood friend, best friend to my brother Tom through the years. He writes of growing up in Pakistan but intersperses throughout the book history of what is happening in the region – things I caught only partially while growing up. I love this book and periodically reread it. This book is home.

Quote: “…’Look carefully’ my brother said. ‘It will be a long time before you see stars shining this brightly again….'”

So now you – Three books from your bookshelf (or Kindle) that give us a snapshot of your life!  Include quotes if you can! 

 Photo Credit from http://pixabay.com/ photo art by Marilyn R. Gardner

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A Little Break

Hey everyone! Sometimes you just need to admit it – and so we will: Robynn and I are really tired. We have both had major life events happen (her first graduated from high school, my fourth graduated from college – and yes I was a child bride. Just kidding.) We are both in the midst of busy seasons at work and home, and we aren’t going to do our best by you if we don’t take a short break. So we will offer up some old pieces that perhaps you haven’t read and ask for grace. Neither of us want to write things that will be a waste of your time, and so we step back for a short time.

Please know how much we value your time, the fact that you read is a gift! Please know that we love, love it when you connect either in this public forum or through email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please know that your affirmation of this space means so much!

Here are a few pieces you may like:

Parenting Series by Robynn. This is a wise and wonderful series!

Series on Suffering by Robynn. An amazing, powerful series that will make you want to highlight, copy, and re-read.

Posts on Rest:

My Weary Wheels Need a Rest

In Praise of Idle Moments

Breathe

Posts on Transition and Goodbye

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye

Transition: Building a Raft

I’m from….

A Stretch-marked Soul

To the One who is Left Behind

How to Give Yourself Grace: Advice to Someone Returning from a Long Journey

To Challenge You

Challenging Assumptions

Churches too Empty, Mosques too Far

Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

You Can’t Empower Those You Pity

I pray rest for all of you! Thank you for being a part of this blog.

Travel Quote:

Between the pages of a passport

Wrapping up the Week – March 28, 2015

A light snow has fallen all day. I’m sitting on the couch watching the flakes dance with abandon, blown by the wind, just doing what snow flakes do. I smile in spite of myself. They stop at the whim of no one but their Creator. Would that I be the same! Unstoppable in purpose, dancing with abandon and joy.

In our part of the world it’s a perfect day to curl up with some good reads!

Holding Space by Heather Plett is my first pick. I’ve never seen this blog before but I am struck by the author’s desire to in her words “hold meaningful conversations.” In the piece I have linked to, Heather talks about how a palliative care nurse helped walk her family through end of life care by “holding space for them.” She describes what this is and how to do it well. I found the piece wise and interesting and hope you will too.

Excerpt: “What does it mean to “hold space” for people? What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

You Probably Won’t Read this Piece About Syria is in Al Jazeera and felt sad, troubling, and convicting. March 15th was the anniversary of Syria’s fifth year of conflict, fifth year of civil war. The article is a direct challenge to continue to care. A challenge to the journalist, a challenge to the reader, a challenge to you and I. The difficulty that I pondered as I attended a party with mostly Syrians a few days later is: how do I care? what does it look like practically to continue to care when we are miles away? I would love to hear what you think.

Excerpt: “Several human rights groups, and many Syrians, had a powerful accusation to make that day. The world, they said, had failed the country and her people. The world didn’t care anymore.

The twisted steal the attention. And the people we should pay attention to fade into the background, bit players in a narrative wrongly and unfairly dominated by the grotesque.

Sometimes journalism itself feels like a fight to get people to care.

And as often, maybe more often, it’s a fight to get yourself to. Every day, the media deals in stories of death and devastation and despair. Too often, it feels like work, just there to be processed. A day’s pay to be earned.

But we have a duty. Because these are other people’s stories.

And they deserve to have them heard.”

We Palestinians Say “Allahu Akbar” by Nadezhda Kevorkova is an interview with the only Palestinian Orthodox Christian priest in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is a fascinating interview and I think it is an important one for Western Christians in particular to read. Archbishop Sebastia Theodosios talks about being Palestinian and being united with Muslims and Christians alike in the Palestinian struggle. He also challenges the notion that the word “Allah” should only be used by Muslims. Allah is the word for God, and in Arabic speaking places both Christians and Muslims alike use this word. I find it incredibly irritating when Western Christians go off on the word “Allah” ignorant of how it is used in other parts of the world. He reclaims the words “Allahu Akbar” as words that a Christian can use to express the greatness of our Creator. This is only one of many interesting things in the interview.

Excerpt: My church has been protecting the Christian presence in the Holy Land and the sacred items related to the life of Christ and Christian Church history.

I am proud of my religion and nationality, I am proud to belong to my fatherland. I am a Palestinian, and I belong to this religious people who are fighting for the sake of their freedom and dignity to implement their dreams and national rights. I support Palestinians and share their cause and their issues. We the Palestinian Orthodox Christians are not detached from their hardships.The Palestinian issue is a problem that concerns all of us, Christians and Muslims alike. It’s a problem of every free intellectual individual aspiring for justice and freedom in this world.

We the Palestinian Christians suffer along with the rest of Palestinians from occupation and hardships of our economic situation. Muslims and Christians suffer equally, as there is no difference in suffering for any of us. We are all living in the same complicated circumstances, and overcoming the same difficulties.

As a church and as individuals we protect this people, and we hope a day will come when Palestinians get their freedom and dignity.”

On my night stand: I’m so excited about this next book! I met the author at the Families in Global Transition conference that I went to in March in Washington D.C. Her name is Brittani Sonnenberg and the title of the book is Home Leave. The book is about a global family but centers on two sisters. Stay tuned for more as I do a book give away in the next week or two. It was amazing to meet this talented young author and I look forward to giving away a copy of Home Leave. Instead of an excerpt I will leave you with one of the reviews of the book on Amazon.

Review: “It’s hard to believe that this astonishing novel is Brittani Sonnenberg’s first–she writes about family with wisdom, humor, and native daring. Here is Persephone’s journey, undertaken by an entire family, the Kriegsteins, who ricochet through time zones, moving from Berlin to Singapore to Wisconsin to Shanghai to Atlanta, together and alone. Sonnenberg’s prose is so vital and so enchanting that you will read this book in the dilated state of a world-traveler, with all of your senses wide open. Her family members are so well-drawn and complex that you’ll close this book certain they exist.“—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Travel Quote:

plane with quote 

Now it’s your turn! What have you been reading? What do you recommend? I would love to hear from you. 

Wrapping up the week – March 7, 2015

While you read this, I will be sitting with a group of people I’ve never met, but with whom I have a great deal in common. I am at the Families in Global Transition conference in Washington, DC. I will write more about this group later, but for now I am enjoying the gift of spending time with like-minded people and I can’t wait to weigh in through writing on all I learn and do. But onto some good reads! 

The Wanderlust Gene: When People are Born to Travel. This essay says it all. And it completely validates my essay in Between Worlds called “Designed for Travel.” Those of you who itch to get on planes, and who rearrange the furniture when you can’t hop on a plane, will love this essay! Just a note that my dad for sure has this gene! He will be 89 years old this summer and he still has that twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his step when he gets to go on a trip.

Excerpt: You’ve been this way for as long as you can remember – which probably dates back to your first few trips growing up, boarding that plane to Disney World every few winters, as a child.

According to recent scientific claims, it may have been embedded in your DNA, even before that.

As told on one psychology blog, the inherent urge to travel can be traced back to one gene, which is a genetic derivative of the gene DRD4, which is associated with the dopamine levels in the brain.

Repairable by Tara Livesay in A Life Overseas. This beautiful post is such a picture of second and third chances. Tara lives in Haiti with her large and lovely family. As a person, I deeply admire Tara from my computer screen. Our only connection has been online but she is all the things I admire in a person. Strong, funny, deeply loves God and the world, and a midwife so that sealed the deal for me! I urge you to head to A Life Overseas and read this essay but for now, here is an excerpt.

Excerpt: I remember vividly the pain of crashing a second time. I was a divorced, single mom.

At twenty-two years old I was trying desperately to piece my life back together after the second shattering.

I said and thought things to myself.
“I cannot be fixed.”
“Once was enough.”
“Who will love you now?”
“This is too much. Give up.”
“You cannot be made whole.”

Cracked into so many jagged pieces, repair and restoration seemed unlikely if not impossible. 

At the time I was carrying in my womb the unplanned little baby girl who would grow up to look me in the eye and say to me with confidence, “This is repairable, you just watch.”

From a Private School in Cairo to Isis Killing Fields in Syria in NY Times. There are many theories behind why people join ISIS. The fact is we don’t know what all goes into a person’s decision but we do know that it is a group that crosses cultural and national boundaries. This is an article that looks at the life of a young man in Cairo and his journey to join ISIS. It was the impetus for the piece I wrote called “A Mother’s Grief; A Father’s Pain.”

Excerpt: “But it is here, in the very fabric of this community, the living rooms, the streets, the mosques and the halls of power, that the fertile ground of extremism has been prepared.

There is no single path that leads to jihad, but in exploring Mr. Yaken’s life, signposts emerge. There are influences familiar and easy to discuss, like a lack of economic opportunity and a renewed sense of political alienation, especially among youths. But there are also more delicate subjects — less often publicly debated, let alone dissected — like the increasingly conservative thinking that defines the faith for many Muslims today, or sexual repression among young people who are taught that their physical and emotional desires can bring them eternal damnation.” [emphasis mine]

On my night stand: I have finished I am Malala and am processing the book. There are things I liked about it, and there are things that concerned me. My opinion of the book has nothing to do with my opinion of Malala herself. I think she is an amazing young woman and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future. It’s the book that I’m processing. I look forward to reviewing it in this space in the next couple of weeks. I am reading a small book called Stories from Gaza, given to me by my daughter Stefanie for Christmas. I love the whole premise of the book, which is making sure stories from Gaza survive and are not only told, but published for wider distribution.

Travel Quote: This one comes from the article above. Enjoy!

map-wanderlust quote

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/map-navigation-hands-travel-route-455769/ WordArt by Marilyn R Gardner

Wrapping up the Week – February 14, 2015

For those who follow Communicating Across Boundaries regularly, you know that I am buried under seven feet of snow. We have word that another 18 inches are coming tomorrow into Monday. I have nothing else to say on that matter!

But snow and indoors make for some great reads! We go from forgiveness to homes to vaccinations in today’s recommendations. I hope you enjoy them!

The Act of Rigorous Forgiveness by David Brooks is a stunning piece in the NY Times. The impetus for the piece is the scandal in the United States of news anchor Brian Williams and his lying about being in a military helicopter that came under fire during the Iraq war. What I appreciate about the piece is Brooks does not focus on the ‘sin’ of Brian Williams; rather he moves us into a deeper look at forgiveness, not as a sentimental gesture but as a ‘rigorous’ action. He then describes the steps of rigorous forgiveness. This is an article worthy of bookmarking and re-reading. The excerpt I have chosen hit me hard, because I see the tendency in writing to do those very things.

Excerpt:The sad part is the reminder that no matter how high you go in life and no matter how many accolades you win, it’s never enough. The desire for even more admiration races ahead. Career success never really satisfies. Public love always leaves you hungry. Even very famous people can do self-destructive things in an attempt to seem just a little cooler.”

Safe as Houses by Rebecca Martin in Curator Magazine. Of all the pieces I have read in the past two weeks this piece moved me deeply. The author begins by taking us into her childhood world and the houses she experienced in books. From there she talks about houses, safety, and paying attention to those around us. But that’s doing the article a serious disservice because it is so much more. Lovers of literature will especially love this piece as she pulls quotes of home and space from a variety of sources.

Excerpt: What is the point of yearning for a home if some piece of eternity can’t break into this present reality and illuminate ordinary days with a sense of belonging, of comfort, of peace, of history, of safety, of meaning, of home in all its best iterations?

On Vaccinations and Immunity, thoughts from east Africa by Rachel Pieh Jones. You would have to be an ostrich to miss the outrage on social media about the outbreak of measles at Disney Land. I love this piece because it gives the perspective of people who live in countries that don’t have a lot of money, that are not privileged, and that understand the terrible consequences of the decision not to vaccinate. As a public health nurse this piece resonates; as someone who has lived in the developing world it resonates even more. Rachel also quotes from the book on my night stand — On Immunity by Eula Biss.

Excerpt: “When someone tells me, in the US, that they don’t need to vaccinate because we don’t have those diseases here anymore, I want to say, ‘The reason we don’t see those diseases is because of vaccines.’ Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan quoted this statistic: ‘It is estimated that before vaccines and antibiotics more than 70% of children died before the age of five.’ It is an incalculable privilege to be able to raise our kids in a time without rampant diseases that blind, maim, and kill. The diseases have not been eradicated, our kids are simply protected. And they aren’t protected because of some imaginary ‘super immune system’ or because they are being raised in an illusion of isolation. They are protected because of vaccines.”

On my night stand: Nothing new to report, but some new ones on the horizon! Namely a book given to me by my husband for my birthday Midnight at the Pera Palace – The Birth of Modern Istanbul. I hope to get lost in that in the next few weeks.

Travel Quote (of sorts!)

door Narnia quote

Lastly, Happy Valentine’s Day to those of you who celebrate! We’ve done some posts on Valentine’s Day in the past and I have linked those below for any who want to read. We tend to challenge the notion of Hollywood and Hallmark expectations in these pieces!

 

Wrapping Up the Week – January 31, 2015

Now Available on Kindle! 

Between Worlds

Along with the massive snow storm affectionately called the Blizzard of 2015, the big news here this week is that Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging is on Kindle! More so it’s FREE on Kindle until Sunday night so please! Take advantage of it! If you have a Kindle or any kind of electronic reader there is nothing to lose! And maybe, just maybe, you’ll want the print edition as well. A girl can hope. Click here to get your free prize. Stay tuned for a giveaway on the blog next week! 

Conversion Roads by Laura Merzig Fabrycky. The best thing I read all week comes from a friend who writes for the Washington Institute of Vocation and Culture. This piece comes from the wisdom of a child’s remark at a dinner table. You won’t want to miss the poignant challenge of this piece.

Excerpt:  “It is not lost on me that parts of modern-day Nineveh — right where Jonah was sent by God — are still under the control of Daesh, those who call themselves the Islamic State. My heart is not unlike Jonah’s in  that I naturally long for God’s holy, wrathful judgment upon these murderous zealots, rather than for his gracious, blindingly good interventions. Perhaps among these we call Daesh, there may be another Saul? And perhaps, among us, there may be another Jonah?”

After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks To Heal. You all know that Pakistan has a big chunk of my heart. This piece goes along with the piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago called “The Courage to Begin Again.” 

Excerpt: At first glance, the school does look “healed up.” Clumps of bright-eyed boys, wearing smart, dark-green jackets and gray slacks, are hanging around on the lawns outside beneath a dripping gray sky. They’re chatting and examining this arriving stranger with friendly interest. Classes are over for the day; they’re waiting to go home.

Then you start to notice the details. The fresh concrete, where the school’s perimeter walls have been made much higher; the glistening new razor wire coiled on top of those walls; the soldiers with machine guns guarding them; and also, hanging from those same walls, the many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: “I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE.”

With fewer voices, Auschwitz survivors speak This week marked the 70th anniversary of the closing of Auschwitz. The stories of Auschwitz continue to make us shudder and close our eyes to the horror, and to take our breath away with the hope and resilience shown by survivors. I did not want to miss talking about this during this week. Here is another piece from BBC News: Auschwitz 70th anniversary: Survivors warn of new crimes

Making “Fawaffles”: An Experiment with Arab and American Cultural Identity This is a delightful read by a kindred spirit and blog friend, Jessica. Jessica is half Palestinian – her mother grew up in Nazareth – and half American – her dad grew up in the midwest. Jessica knows well what it is to grow up Between Worlds. One of the ways she has chosen to embrace this is through food. You have to read her blog to learn more about this, but I love what she does with her blog Bint Rhoda’s Kitchen. In the meantime take a look at the article I linked above.

Excerpt: “But here’s the thing about being a third-culture-kid, about being from more than one place.  You always have more cards than you show.  And maybe, just maybe, the only way to truly be at home is for you to occasionally, just occasionally, throw down your whole hand.”

On my bedside stand: I’m still reading I am Malala – here’s a poignant quote from this past week

First the Taliban took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history…”

Travel Quote: Source – http://istanabagus.com/quotes/travel-quotes/

world make memories

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/hands-world-map-global-earth-600497/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner