The Pilgrim and the Politician

A man begins a pilgrimage to Rome in Canterbury, England, and eventually arrives at the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard. As he walks, he carries 88 years of joy, sorrow, and a rather large backpack on his back.

Traveling from Bern to the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard is another man, who is also on a journey. As he makes his way, he carries the arrival of a new baby and the weight of his country’s future on his back.

Pilgrims walk for different reasons. Our pilgrim walked, but he did not know why. He only knew he was called to walk and was uninterested in “why.” Politicians attend events for a myriad of reasons. Our politician attended an event in late June because he knew he should be there. He didn’t pay much attention to “why.” Both men were answering a call.

Nationality separated them. Language separated them. Normal, everyday differences separated them.

Why did Brian walk? Why did Christophe attend that concert?

Perhaps one of the many reasons Brian walked and Christophe attended that concert could be this blog post and the mere fact that you are reading it.

It’s 2014 and we can be jaded and cynical. Most of us see politicians as untouchable and most of us do not pay any attention to pilgrims. A politician would never waste his time talking to a pilgrim and they certainly would not be at the same event because politicians go to fancy places and pilgrims do not.

Wrong.

There are still places in this world that transcend language, nationality, age, religious beliefs, socio-economic differences. There are still places that bring people together for a common purpose, known or yet unknown. There are still places where two men from completely different walks of life can be brought together to share things – ideas, music, Raclette. There are places where the sting of cynicism is made weak.

We have to treasure these places and nourish them. We must feed them with our time, with our resources, and with our very best intentions. We have to look at these places as true sanctuaries because that is what they are.

They are places where the shoes on your feet do not matter. They are places where the color of your hair, your skin, your coat…none of it matters. They are places where a pilgrim and a politician are both seen as exactly what they are:  God’s children – truly equal and worthy of unconditional love and acceptance.

We must give our best to these places and the people walking into them. Both are deserving of our adoration.

I could say many things about the pilgrim and the politician. They are two of the finest men I have met in a very long time. It is not the point. The point is much simpler than that.

There is a place on the border between Switzerland and Italy where a pilgrim and a politician sat together and shared an important life moment.

That place is the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard.

You should go there and give it your best. If you cannot go there, you can still give it your best.

Donate 5 dollars, 10 Euro, 20 CHF, or 100,000£. What is your best? Give that.

Hospice du Gd-St-Bernard – 1946 Bourg-St-Pierre – Suisse
Union de Banque Suisse – 1920 Martigny
IBAN        CH50 0026 4264 6946 8001 X
BIC          UBSWCHZH80A

If we don’t give these places our best, how can this happen?

The Pilgrim and the Politician
The Pilgrim and the Politician

 

 

Lost in translation? I don’t think so.

I remember the day very clearly (it’s in my book). About four years ago, I was standing in front of someone and trying desperately to communicate in German – my 6th language.

“Ich weiss mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut,” I said.

“Ja und nicht gut genug.”

I know my German is not so good….to which he responded, “yes and not good enough.”

I refrained from saying, “Oh really? How’s your English? Tell me your thoughts on the Oxford comma? Passé?”

Today, I was dealing with a Swisscom employee. I am already a day behind because of Swisscom and also 400CHF poorer. This to say nothing of the pounding headache I have had since purchasing their product that would make my life “einfacher.” #itdidnt

Go on a little “with me” trip, as I call it. Especially those of you who get frustrated by non-native English speakers.

Picture yourself as a technical idiot trying to explain, in your sixth language, something said to you the night before on the Swisscom hotline by an actual technical expert. Imagine while this is happening, you are watching the minutes slowly tick toward the departure of your train.

Then, imagine the manager telling you in Swiss dialect “kein Englisch nur Tüütsch” (no English, only German), even though English is one of the working languages for Swisscom. Next, imagine missing both trains and still there is no solution from the people who sold you the mountain & the gold for 400CHF. You there? Great.

Now, add on to it that you, like everyone else in the world, have your own issues to deal with.

Really. Imagine all that.

It’s more than a headache. It’s the problem, in a global sense, with customer service and general apathy toward others – in particular, those who are foreign to us in some way.

Again, I’m not Mother Teresa (read the post entitled “I’m not Mother Teresa,” you’ll see), but when I see someone is struggling, for any reason, I go where they are. I can attempt other languages (including Latin and sign language) if I have to. Why? Because it’s not about me. It’s about the other person needing the help I can give.

I really don’t care if we are talking about a 5G connection cockpit username upgrade or directions to the bathroom or even spiritual discernment. Egal (I know that one…it means, “it’s all the same” like “equal” but super-sized). I am going to try my damnedest to be there and to help.

If I were in Texas and someone walked up to me (as a customer or a mere human) in need of my help and said, “passt Deutsch?” I would never say, “huh uh.” See, that’s the Texas (dialect) version of English (official language). Why would I do that? I have no need to make another person feel small, stupid, or subordinate. I would say “natürlich passt das, wie kann ich helfen?”

One of my favorite quotes, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We should all make sure we commit that one to memory.

In every language.

Am I disposable? Are you?

I am profoundly struck by Pope Francis’ recent remarks, “Young people at the moment are in crisis. We have all become accustomed to this disposable culture. We do the same thing with the elderly…they are afflicted by a culture where everything is disposable. We have to stop this habit of throwing things away. We need a culture of inclusion.”

Have we all, young and old, become an “i-generation” that is focused primarily on disposing of everything easily?

Let’s think about things that are disposable: razorblades, diapers, tires. Yes, they are easy to throw away and that is convenient. But, where do they go when they’ve been disposed of? I mean, it all goes somewhere, right? One of the many things I love about Switzerland, they make it hard and expensive for you to dispose of “trash.” Well done.

As disturbing as our “I have to dispose of this thing easily” fixation is, the extension of this desire to toss that which is not immediately necessary is truly shocking: people are also disposable.

I get in a fight with someone? I delete them from my FB page, Twitter followers, contact list. I’m annoyed with another person? I ignore phone calls and emails. I am having a hard time, so I don’t ask a follow-up to the answer, “I’m alright, I guess.” I’m busily running to work? I cut through a crowd of people like a knife through butter…who cares if I ran into a guy with a broken arm. He’ll survive.

Because people are disposable. Their feelings, their pursuits of happiness, their future plans…their very lives. Look at a newspaper. In today’s newspaper in Zürich: a 3-year old was shot by the Mafia in Rome, a plane full of human beings disappeared in thin air, Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives, and five other awful stories revolving around human suffering as the world watches.

It all points to a bigger issue – one that is truly terrifying in 2014 (we should be well-educated, well-aware) – we are disposing of other people.  It’s medieval, a human as a pawn to get me what I want or as a shield to protect me from something that’s scaring or attacking me. That chess piece? is a person – someone’s son or daughter. Let that sink in.

I used to have a weekly visit with a homeless man that lived in under a bridge in Luzern. I called him “Herbert” because I never could get him to clearly state his name and it was one of those “Shit, it’s been months now and I’m too embarrassed to ask him again” scenarios. 8 times out of 10, Herbert was asleep or passed out, but I’d always leave him a coffee and croissant. When he was awake or semi-sober, he called me his Engeli. I think “Herbert” is in my book, by the way. Anyway, he disappeared one day. After a year under the same bridge, living on the same bench. I think he must have felt disposable, but he wasn’t disposable to me. That was 3 years ago and I still think of Herbert at least three times a week.

It’s inhumane to think of another person’s life like we think of a piece of trash or to call someone’s death “collateral damage.” It is a slippery slope between the decision to ignore a person’s suffering and the decision to disregard that person’s life entirely.

What if the person you’re ignoring could be made better by one chat over coffee? What if the iPhone you just threw away could be refurbished and sent to a small village in Africa? Is that a huge imposition? What if a weekly “hello” to a homeless man ends up being the last time someone said “hello” to him? Still think it’s okay to consider another person as “disposable” or have I convinced you that people and things are not disposable yet?

It’s not a Christian or Jewish or gay or straight or black or white issue to me. It’s a humanitarian one. People are not disposable and neither are razorblades or iPhones or books. Anything that has been created is a part of creation and has a space on this Earth. As the Pope said, we must start to reflect on and acknowledge the intrinsic value of creation. Maybe that’s a start.