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2013 Grateful 34

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May? Remember those girls? From the E.E. Cummings poem?

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May went down to the beach (to play one day) and Maggie discovered a shell that sang so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,
and Milly befriended a stranded star whose rays five languid fingers were;
and Molly was chased by a horrible thing which raced sideways while blowing bubbles,
and May came home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.
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 I was reminded of them recently when visiting the seaside resort of Majori in Latvia. I have a thing about the sea and prefer winter beaches with solitary walkers rather than the thronged sands of summer. It was a cold day – a wet one – and yet the minute we hit the sand, the sun came out, the temperature rose 10 degrees. It was like stepping into a micro-climate of sorts, one that enveloped us in warmth and held the cold at bay.

IMG_3805 (800x600)For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live by the sea and one day it’ll happen. But it has to be a strong sea. One that crashes against the shoreline and screams in the night. One that howls its way to eternity and back and makes you believe in the fragility of life and the tenuousness with which you hang on to it. I have very vivid memories of an Easter weekend spent in Ocean Shores in Oregon and  a New Year spent on Achill Island off the West Coast of Ireland. I’ve a bank full of flashbacks to long beach walks either alone or in company and hours of time spent sitting on the rocks listening to waves crash and thunder as I felt so utterly and completely alone.

IMG_3812 (800x590)Were it not for the fact that summer fast approaches and the quiet solitude of this gorgeous old beach house will be broken by the raucous noise of tanned ravers, and its clean air disturbed by the toxic smell of suncream,  I’d have spent some time imagining a life there. As it were, I coveted the view and mentally refurbished it to my taste and style and wondered if I could live there just in winter.

Summer houses in Majori apparently attract a monthly rent of up to €25 000, depending on their size. It’s a popular spot for Russian money and the newly built houses are part of a growing body of evidence that money and taste are not necessarily constant bedfellows.  Some of the older buildings are tarted up in pastels, while the boutiques showcase the blingiest of bling.

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Indian poet, playwright, and Nobel Prize winner for literature, Rabindranath Tagore, said: You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. Don’t let yourself indulge in vain wishes. But what, I wonder, if I didn’t want to cross it … would standing and staring at the water be so bad? And I wonder, too, if I am indulging myself in vain wishes, or am I simply biding my time till that day I pack up and head for the coast?

This week, as thunderstorms of both a meteorological and a political persuasion rage across Hungary, I am grateful that I get to indulge myself every now and then with trips to the sea. I am grateful, too, that my wishes are not vain. One day…

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

2013 Grateful 35

A good friend of mine once told me that he envied me my faith. Another, a confirmed ‘dirt man’, thought that it must make life a little easier but wondered how I managed to be so matter-of-fact, while living in a world based not on scientific facts and figures – hard data – but on tenuous concepts and strange beliefs.

There’s a great expression used at home that has become a mantra of sorts for me – if it’s for me, it won’t pass me. End of story. Clean. Simple. Precise. What’s due to me will come to me – not necessarily on my schedule, mind you, but in the end, it’ll all work out for the best. Some might consider this trite. Others might think it  a cop-out. The very idea that each of us has a predestined life plan seems at face value to negate the concept of free will. I’ve long since given up debating the point – all I know is that faith works for me. Having faith, knowing with unqualified certainty that what is meant to be will be, believing that everything will work out for the best – call it faith, call it whatever – it works… for me.

In Latvia last week, we ventured north of Riga to the seaside town of Majori. There I saw faith of another sort – or perhaps the same, not that it matters much.

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At the site of the former Orthodox Church of the Kazan Icon, consecrated in 1896, people still lay flowers and attend ceremonies each Sunday at 4pm. This church survived two World Wars until one night, in 1962, when on orders from the state, it was bulldozed and razed to the ground.  Priests who served here included Jānis Pommers, the first saint to come from Latvia.

Though the church has been gone for longer than I’ve been alive, the congregation has kept the faith and fundraising continues to build a new church on the old site.

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To hold vigil here each Sunday in the belief that one day the building, the church, and its community will be restored… that is faith.

As antisemitism raises its ugly head in Budapest and Jews are assaulted at football matches, believing in the innate goodness of mankind takes even more so I  take heart in such acts of faith. This week, as I still feel the heartbeat from Salaspils, I am grateful, once again, for my faith; for whatever innocence or naivety that allows me to believe in the good in people and the sanctity of tomorrow.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52