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2018 Grateful 8

I was at home at the weekend. A brief in and out to see how the folks were doing. I went to Saturday evening mass, something I usually don’t like to do as I prefer to save my mass till Sunday. Somehow, going on Saturday doesn’t feel quite the same. Yet I was driving in from the airport, and it was on, and they were at it. So I stopped in.

It made a change to be able to understand what was going on. I’m usually straining to catch words I understand and then patching together the essence of what I think is being said. Boys from the village national school were being enrolled in the Confirmation programme, which explained why the church had fewer empty seats than usual.

I sat mid-way down the church. As one of the teachers called out the names of those being enrolled in the programme, they stood up. Amidst the expected Tadhgs and Jameses and Padraigs was a healthy smattering of names I couldn’t pronounce. Amidst the gingers, the blondes, and the brunettes were some fabulous coiled, coarse, and curly locks, including one fab set of dreads. Ireland wasn’t the only country standing up to be counted. I was impressed at the level of diversity in the school.

Back in my day, some 40 years ago, the diversity banner in our class was carried by a lone American. Her name was Phoebe Eaton. She lived in a house out the Dublin Road that was rumoured to have special plug sockets to take American hairdryers and toasters and kettles. For some weird and wonderful reason I’ve still not discovered, I found that fascinating. I’m not even sure if Phoebe made her confirmation with us, I just remember from primary school, an exotic little thing with massive eyes who twanged when she spoke. Strange. I haven’t thought about her in years. And years. [Out of curiosity I googled the name and found a Phoebe Eaton in NYC who is now a journalist. I wonder if they’re one and the same.]

Anyway, by the time I surfaced from my ruminations, a few of the boys were presenting banners representing the seven gifts of the holy spirit. As I watched and listened I noted that the seven boys standing on the altar as representatives of the Confirmation class, well, they were all obviously Irish. The diversity on display, such as it was, amounted to differences in height, weight, and hair colour.

Well, that set me off in a whole new direction.

Was I the only one in the church thinking that this was a little odd? Was I over-reacting? Was there a backstory I wasn’t privy to? Maybe the boys had volunteered. Maybe they had won a competition. Maybe they were being punished 🙂 Had diversity become so entrenched in the school that I, as an outsider, was the only one noticing that it was missing?

This week I’m grateful that my memory still works and that I’m still noticing things. And that Voltaire isn’t around to say ‘Judge a [wo]man by [her] questions rather than by [her] answers.’

 

 

Around the table

I spent 10 days recently with a group of people from 17 different countries – 22 if you add in the facilitators and organisers. There was no hassle, no misunderstandings, no grief. We weathered the inevitable communication issues (minor), adjusted well to the various cultural differences, and we got along.

Read any newspaper, turn to any TV channel, switch on social media and you’ll immediately see instances where people are not getting on. And increasingly, it seems to be perceived polarities between Christians and Muslims, between nationals and non-nationals, between politics A and politics B, that are consuming an inordinate amount of energy today. Needlessly consuming. Needlessly consuming valuable energy.

There is no quick fix. No grand solution. No magic bullet. With people come prejudices. We’re conditioned to creating barriers, giving reasons why we can’t do X instead of looking for solutions and finding reasons why we can do Y. Sad to say, it seems to be the nature of the rather nasty beast that man is morphing into.

But occasionally, I get days when what I read or watch or listen to replaces despair with hope and I take solace in the fact that in every corner of the world, someone is working hard to make a change.

Some examples:

What struck me in both videos is how food played an integral part in the harmonious relationship. And I recalled an inspirational Post-it that said: When you have more than you need, build a bigger table. And then I remembered, a great Canadian video I saw a while back:

Two years ago, in November, in Seoul, Korea, ‘food as both as an instigator of unrest as well as its symbolic role in forging peace was the topic of a conference at the Slow Food Asia Pacific Festival’. A report speaks to various initiatives around the world that show the power of food. But on a simpler, more personal note, perhaps we could make the world a better place if we spent more time around the table with each other, talking, eating, appreciating our differences rather than finding fault.

As the Heineken ad asks: Is there more than unites us than divides us…

I’m cooking for six tomorrow evening – six people, five nationalities. Not a personal best, but not bad.

 

 

Grateful 51

Earlier this week, I sent out an e-mail to my North American friends, those living within the USA and those living without. I included a link to American author Jake Lamar’s video on why he’s not disappointed with President Obama. I was quite taken with it as a piece of rhetoric, even if his eye contact leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also just a tad on the lengthy side. Semantically, it was pleasing, convincing, and passionate. But I wanted to know about the content. And, as I’m not in a position to judge, not living in the States myself, and being a trifle more concerned about what’s been going on here of late, I asked my friends, each of whom I trust and whose opinion I value, to comment.

Predictably, some really liked it, thought it made sense. They voted for Obama and will vote for him again. Others had mixed feelings – Lamar got some issues right, and others wrong – they’d voted for Obama and would consider voting for him again but their vote isn’t in the bag. And then there were those who didn’t vote for him and won’t vote for him and think he’s the worst thing ever to happen to America.

The whys and the wherefores are neither here not there. I don’t intend this to be a discussion on whether Obama is the man or not. What I’m grateful for is that I have a diversity of friends who are educated, passionate, and up to date with what’s going on in their world. They shared their opinions and experiences with me, pointed me in new directions (e.g. what’s happening with SB1070 in Arizona;  and is it really 1963 in America again), and gave valid arguments for their reasoning.

The net result is that I now know more than I did on Monday and am a lot clearer about what I’d do were I in the USA and voting. Consensus is not important. I don’t have to agree with my friends for them to be my friends. In being able to challenge their opinions and likewise to have to stand beside my own, is a very valuable exercise. Diversity is key… diversity of opinion, of taste, of reasoning. Surrounding ourselves by like-minded people while wallowing in the same type of information will simply serve to narrow our perspectives and make us more insular.

So, at the end of this, the second week of 2012, I am truly grateful for my friends and their continuous edification; for opening new doors and beckoning me through.