Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

Breaking Point

I love snow.

I have this outdoor plant from Luzern (everything from Luzern is superior, including cheese, Emmi products, and Catholics).

I love snow. But, it’s snowing. A lot.

The leaves look weak and the plant looks weighed down by the snow. Twice a day, I go outside and get rid of the snow, trying to give the plant some support.

It needs some support. It’s too much snow.

Snow is lovely, but it’s heavy. When flakes come together, they have weight and power. One snowflake? No problem. But pile snowflake on top of snowflake, and you get something. Something heavy. Something that can snap a 100-year old tree in half. One melting snowflake can start an avalanche.

When does a plant or a tree (or a person) reach a breaking point? When does the avalanche happen? When is one tiny snowflake or nasty email or person’s rejection…too much?

I saw avalanches when I walked down the Col du Grand Saint Bernard. There is no warning. Something snaps and that is it. “Breaking Point,” in this case, seems like a post-mortem diagnosis.

The snow is falling in Uitikon. Snowflakes are building. Only one thing to do…photo

When it feels like too much; it is. Get rid of it. Whatever “it” is. Stay away from your breaking point.

Apples and faith

How very Swiss the sermon was on Christmas eve/day. “Brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is like an apple.”

Father Luzzatto’s sermon was powerful, as is usually the case when someone stands at the pulpit at Franziskanerkirche. Apples and candles adorned our Christmas trees in my loving, liberal, Luzern church.

Ah, the apple. We love our apples here: raw, cinnamon-dusted, on a train, in a car, while walking. We love apples. There are well over 7,000 varieties of apples. Some are sweet and others are almost sour.  Certain “perfect” apples appear absolutely blemish-less, whilst others are picked from a tree and might have not only bruises, but possibly a plump worm hiding within. Apples used to be a sign of wealth. Countries have their own national favorites. It’s easily one of the top 3 most consumed fruits. Even Switzerland’s hero Wilhelm Tell was linked with the apple, which demonstrated his bravery, accuracy, and resilience under pressure (three rather important universal strengths).

But, the apple’s also an apt metaphor for faith.

There’s a small layer of a “shell” protecting it as it grows, matures, and thrives. Once past the fragile, but firm, exterior, one reaches the sought-after flesh. Interestingly enough, the true legacy each apple holds is far from that which is immediately seen or tasted. Buried underneath the peel, past the yummy inside, there it is: the core. We say, “das Kernhaus eines Apfels” in German. The core of each apple has the potential to bring literal life.

Even the proportions are similar. The outer layer is thin, but sturdy. The inner flesh definitely contains the majority of what makes an apple have its well-known taste. The core is similar to the outer layer because it is limited in size (and circumference, by nature).

There we have our proportions (those of us who are faith seekers). Our “faith” or outer armor is not so thick, but it is substantial. The inner stuff makes us who we are. The core (a purity of heart I believe we are all born with) is small, but drives everything from birth to death and then the next step…if it is protected.

Today I did a bit of research. There is a group in Asia trying to create an apple without a peel. Why? Because people don’t like the taste of the peel. “It’s bitter,” they say, “I just want the inside part.” There are hundreds of products created to help us get rid of our apple peel, including one of my favorite products, which is apple juice. We wish it was easier to get directly to and enjoy the delicious flavors of the apple. Who cares about that pesky peel layer, I want the good stuff!

Hell, we all do.

News Flash: the good stuff isn’t in the flesh – it’s in the peel. In particular, that area just between the peel and the flesh. You get a healthy dose of potassium, Vitamins A, C, & K, fiber, not to mention possible cancer-fighting elements and antioxidants. Eat only the flesh? You don’t.

It’s trendy now to eliminate that “armor.” But, when we eliminate the armor of “faith,” we lose a lot.  Not everything, we still get a delicious, wonderful, beautiful apple. But, picture an apple without a peel. How that would really be? It would be exposed to every storm, susceptible to every pest. The peel, the armor – they protect the flesh. Both the outer layer and the inner layer do something extremely important. They both protect the core. The inner layer cannot do it alone, that’s why the outer layer is crucial. Get it?

I struggle to imagine myself with the armor that has protected me. The armor I choose willingly and happily to wear fully aware of what makes it my faith and my armor. No one told me, “put this on just because.” No. I made the decision. Certainly, it would have been a lovely life without some of the doubts and anger that come with wearing the “armor.” The many times I felt my strong faith did not protect me or the ones I loved…or even the ones I saw who needed protection.

The church services on Christmas eve and day ended with everyone taking home an apple for him or herself. I am still thinking about this comparison and loving it more and more. Before we left, Father Luzzatto joked about our favorite apple.

Mine is definitely the Pink Lady apple. I loved them when I lived in Manhattan (my grocer carried them). They are a bit tart, but mainly sweet. The peel is tough, rugged.

Apples and faith. Such a beautiful pairing.

Amen.

.Apples and ChristmasApple and Advent candles

 

Allerheiligen & Allerseelen – All Saints and All Souls day

“In honor of the saints – known and unknown.”

Rarely does a person reach his or her 21st birthday without experiencing the death of a (be)loved one. So, we all have common ground there.

How we express our loss is such a private choice. It seems to me, having seen people that did not express their loss and watching that downward spiral, the only important part of “how” is “that we do it.”

There are many solutions in the diverse forms: memorial service, Requiem, Shiva, Día de los Muertos, Janazah prayer, mourning flags, black clothing, white clothing, covered mirrors. Buddhists believe both how deeply and how long we mourn can be based on the “tie with the person.” I love that.

There is a difference between the sister holidays of All Saints and All Souls day. Traditionally, All Saints day was meant to honor those who died and were assured of eternal salvation. All Souls day was meant to honor those who were unbaptized and thus…well…destination unknown. This is the 2-part version of what some celebrate as a 3-day observance called “All Hallowtide.”

Being the devout Catholic I am, I can say clearly: I don’t like it. It’s a very man-made distinction and I don’t like those. I prefer to view things the way I’d hope our ever-loving God would. Do I imagine God making such a distinction?

No.

Allerheiligen is a big deal in Switzerland. Truly. The cemeteries and church are packed. The heads are not all grey, white, bald, or salt/pepper – there are younger people in both spaces. The presence of all ages reinforces what we’ve all learned consciously or subconsciously by age 21…

this life is temporary

 One way I’ve learned to express loss is beautiful. My church in Luzern makes Easter candles. Somewhere along the line, someone told me he burned his Easter candle the week before Allerheiligen and put it on the grave of his mother (it wasn’t L).Easter Candle on Allerheiligen

(This is what I do every year. It is how I have chosen to express loss.)

Candles cover the graves on Allerheiligen. As the sun begins to set, the people put candles on the graves of people they love and remember. I, too, have been honored to decorate the grave of a beloved member of my extended Luzern family (http://wp.me/p2dSt7-hA). I am at her grave often and I notice other people in mourning. I’ve noticed this expression of loss comes without as many tears being dropped on the graves we keep in memorium. Allerheiligen comes without quite as much pain.

It doesn’t always have to be painful, does it? Remember our loved ones can serve to renew the bond we had with them, instead of tearing open healed wounds.

Next year, on the 1st of November, remember your loved ones. If you are not near them, find a simple tree, light a few candles, say prayers/sing a song/read a poem. That’s what All Saints and All Souls day really mean.

We did not forget you, we remember your time here among us, and we honor you.

All Saints day

Why I am in love with SBB, CFF, and FFS (which does not stand for “for f***’s sake”)

Literally, the only relationship I have had for the past few years that never disappoints me is my relationship with the public transportation system in Switzerland.

Not kidding. It is a love affair. I am truly in love and it will never go away. Okay, maybe we will fight? I hope not. If we fought and I won, I would like to have the tilting train removed from my trips to the Romandie. If we fought and I lost, I would  agree to sit in the kids’ wagon for a month and babysit.

Here’s are 3 things I noticed on Sunday.

The train station in Zurich is AMAZING. They renovated it. Same in Geneva. This is only a good thing. It brings more businesses into the train station, which gives the majority of shop owners a break on Sundays (train stations are open, but 99.999999% of stores are not). It makes the train stations a place of commerce, instead of a place to (sorry) take a potty break. Sometimes on the ground (I’m looking at you, Grand Central Station where I saw a man go number 2!!).

Luzern recently redirected traffic leading into its train station. One lane is reserved for buses, taxis, etc. That is making major traffic for the cars in other lane. Hey, guess what? Don’t take your car. Take the bus or, gasp, WALK. Luzern, win-win from y’all! And, they’re renovating their train station, too. Amazing.

The last thing is crucial. The people employed by SBB (for the most part and I mean EVERYONE I’ve encountered and I take/arrange public transportation more than most) speak multiple languages, attempt to be friendly, and willingly engage in conversation with customers. There is a premium on customer service with SBB/CFF/FFS and the regional service providers.  That’s not so common these days. Non-natives like me appreciate knowing more about the best route from Bubikon to Wankdorf (not joking). It’s nice to chat about this with Beat, who comes from Riffelberg, speaks about 20 languages, and can tell me everything about the route, including how many dairy cows I will see. Bravo employees of the public transportation system in Switzerland. Seriously.

Look, I am someone without tons of money. I still invest in my yearly SBB pass (called a “GA” say it outloud and laugh, please. It’s a general pass for all the trains, trams, buses, ships, donkeys, elephants, etc. http://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/railpasses/ga.html). Why? Because They make my life infinitely easier and more pleasant. Traveling by train, even in the Kinderwagon, is civilized (for God’s sake, you can drink! ON THE TRAIN!), easy, dependable, and keeps another car off the road.

I’m in love. It’s funny because my “first train” ride in Zurich was my move. The train came from Munich. It was a horrible storm (this is not a joke) and the train hit a fallen tree, derailed, and we had to walk to the nearest bus, in the rain. The journey usually takes about 3 hours, I think. It took me 10 hours to get to Zurich.

But, it was a DB. Not SBB. 😉

I love you, SBB. I just wish I could tweet my love. Fix your Tweeter feed!!

(PS- Can you please talk to ZVV and have them make my train orange again? It goes better with my book. Thanks.)

As much truth as I can speak: “The kind of foreigner we want”

On August 1st, Swiss Independence day, I was privileged and honored to stand in front of a crowd gathered in the Valais at the foot of the Petit Mont Mort. I sang “Amazing Grace” and the words echoed in the shiny brown rocks that, just 16 months earlier, propelled my feet to the top of that mountain as it glistened with snow.

After a speech by the Mayor, I took the microphone again. I’d requested to sing the Swiss National anthem just as I’d done for 4 years in a row in my German-speaking home base of Luzern. José (God, bless him because I truly love this precious man) encouraged me to sing the first verse in my go-to German, even though the Valais is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I began singing the song I truly love for the people I truly love: the Swiss.

Trittst in Morgenrot daher – seh’ ich dich im Strahlenmeer... Schweizerpsalm

As the “Texas friend of the Hospice” sang their country’s anthem, I knew what at least a handful were thinking.

“She’s the kind of foreigner we want.”

Oddly enough, I am more old school “Swiss” than most of my Swiss friends. I believe in mandatory dialect language in the first 3 grades of primary school (I also believe in optional evening classes in dialect language once a week for parents). I believe in strict rules – clean up after yourself & others, don’t be too loud anywhere, continuing the tradition of mandatory military service, explore pragmatic options before resorting to extreme ones, go along/get along, greet people with “Bonjour”/”Grüezi”/etc., keep shops closed on Sunday, treat the elderly with respect, fresh air cures almost anything, let men fix the fondue. I want foreigners to reach B-level communication of their canton’s language in order to apply for a work/residency permit to make their lives here better/easier. I think people who flush their toilets after 10PM should get a ticket.

Oh! and I believe everyone should have the Swiss National anthem memorized. It’s too beautiful not to hold in your heart.

I’m still not the kind of foreigner they want.

As these beautiful faces from the Valais looked up at me and held me as an example, I was saddened and my voice cracked with emotion. I recorded it and I won’t play it. Not ever. It is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. This country I love, admire, respect, nurture, protect, treasure, and adore…these beautiful men and women here and all over this country…

I am the foreigner they don’t want.

Even me.

Especially me.

The end of the first verse is so beautiful and I was touched when they unexpectedly joined in on this part…

When the Alps glow brightly, pray, free Swiss, in the name of your pious ancestors’ souls, pray to the God that dwells in our noble country.

After my time in the Valais, Sunday found me back at my beloved church in Luzern and the sermon was peculiar to a lot of them.

It wasn’t to me. I knew what he was saying.

“The disciples were afraid of her. She was foreign. She wore clothes they did not recognize. She spoke a language they did not know. She seemed desperate. They told Jesus not to pay attention to her. Jesus did not listen. He tested her faith, he saw she was a believer, he healed her daughter. It is our duty to have faith in humanity and to do so without judgment. It is human nature to be afraid of that which is foreign and we must fight this nature because it is inhumane.”

There is a joke in Texas that anyone not born in Texas is “foreign.” It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s meant to be funny, but also a bit ostracizing.

I’ll never joke about it again. It’s horrible to be labeled “foreign” by people you just wish would love you.

August 1, 2008August 1, 2008 – my first time celebrating Swiss Independence day

1st of August in 2009August 1, 2009 – Interlaken

August 1, 2010August 1, 2010 – Luzern

August 1, 2011August 1, 2011 – Luzern

August 1, 2012August 1, 2012 – Uitikon Waldegg

August 1, 2013August 1, 2013 – Uitikon Waldegg

August 1, 2014August 1, 2014 – The Hospice of Grand St. Bernard

Remembering a great lady – Bibiana Marie Longauer

I don’t believe anyone should be forgotten.

In this age of google searching, blog posting, tattoo-brandishing, and even hash tag creating…it pains my heart to think someone I admire would be forgotten because she is not alive to warrant a hash tag.

In Luzern lived a lady, Bibiana Longauer.

She was an amazing lady – one of those people changing the corner she lived in.

Or so I hear.

I never met her. She was quite ill by the time her name was first said in my presence. Since that time, years ago, there is a small part of me that feels I know the woman whose pig collection now lives in my flat. I aspire to be like her and to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of others.

Let me break down this woman’s timeline (as well as I can). She was born in 1946 somewhere near or in Bratislava on June 7th. I like to know on which day of the week someone was born and little BML was born on a Friday. She died on July 21, 2010. That was a Wednesday.

She carried with her a doctorate in pharmacology. In 1970 or so, she and her then husband carried their little one to Luzern. She dedicated her life to empowering women, helping the helpless, and making her community better and stronger. Literally. She used her life to make other people healthier and stronger: (what was) revolutionary methadone treatment, political involvement on behalf of struggling mothers and young women, encouragement of homeopathy in a meat & potato culture, and preaching fitness. The woman introduced Stevia to try to cut back on Aspartame use, she opened the door before opening hours and kept it open after closing time, “not an option” was better said “let’s try something else.”

The woman was a light bringer.

As I noted, she loved pigs, modern art alongside furniture draped in classic, rich fabrics. People say she was generous, but kept both eyes and an extra third one on finances. Her friendship rainbow embraced a multitude of socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Was her service a job or a ministry? No one feels quite certain, but most think it was 30%-70% in favor of her faith. They say she loved music, sunshine, fresh flowers. I could go on and on about what she did well because I collect the stories like pieces of a patchwork quilt. She wasn’t perfect, no one is. But her life makes a lovely quilt.

By a strange circumstance, during one of her last days of work at the Pharmacy, Dr. Longauer helped one of my American friends who was living in Luzern at the time. We found the receipt and he told me the story in December of 2011. I love stories about BML and I wish I knew more.

Every week, I go to her grave. I usually sing the Bruder Klaus prayer or one verse of Ave Maria, I light a candle in the memory box, and I place a fresh flower…music, light, flower. Three of her favorite things.

None should be forgotten. Just because time moves on, we should remember everyone. AND it’s important to tell the loved ones. “I remember her.” It makes a person feel better when others remember his lost loved one. He feels less alone in his loss.

Remember someone today and write to his or her family or to your friends on Facebook or create a hashtag. I don’t care. Just remember.

Especially the good ones like #BML of Bratislava and Luzern.