The High Road

There is a beautiful Wanderweg (clearly-marked walks through the Swiss countryside, mainly) in Kanton Zug. It sits atop the Zugerberg and contains breathtaking beauty, relaxing pedestrian strolls, a charmingly dilapidated church, fabulous tracks for bikers, and the “Skulpturenweg” for children and adults.

When I lived in Zürich, I took the short train ride (with my beloved SBB) to Zug, and  walked it many times. It was more meditation than sport. I would walk for hours – disappearing in the sound of cowbells and sunshine or rain or foggy mists.

The top of a Swiss mountain, even a “smaller” one like the Zugerberg, can make one pause. There is a literal and figurative perspective when viewing the city below that brings an immediate disconnect from “real life” and places one in the mountain’s uppermost sanctuary.

When looking down upon the city below, I recall feeling compelled to stay high. I wanted to stay at the top because being at the top felt easy and peaceful. Relative to what lingered below, the higher road above felt more who I was. (Do not mistake me, I can do it – work and live below – I just don’t want to.)

The low road is covered with soldiers running around wearing narcissism, greed, neglect, pathological lying, darkness, etc. like medals. It seems almost normal for quelque personnes on the low road to engage in the tearing apart of folks who don’t live like they do. People who place a higher premium on other virtues.

I don’t do that well and I hope my son will choose not to. It’s not a Catholic thing for me, it’s a human thing. I have one life, I don’t want to live it worshiping those gods.

The high road has better views and many things seem easier to “touch” up there – joy, God, clarity, compassion, sunshine. That’s what I want my son to strive for, also. Life can show you true joy when you stay focused on gratitude, generosity, and humility.

There’s one great thing that lives up there I failed to mention. Justice resides on the high road. Even as some on the low road fail to see her or care she is there. Justice always stays where the air is pure and the views are clear.

And, she’s one hell of a companion to have by your side.

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.

Why do the nations so furiously rage?

Studying global relations (law and economics on an international scale) has been full of many lessons I wish every person could learn. Not yet done – but here are just five things I’ve already learned, in Tell-It-Like-It-Is style (i.e. I’m not using fancy phrases, okay, I promise).

  1. There is absolutely no reason for wealthy, developed nations not to get along. There are many excuses (most of which center around the need to “protect” or “isolate” the individual country from the global marketplace), but there are no reasons. In times of plenty, we should not be greedy – we should be gracious. In times of strife, we should not be aggressive – we should be thoughtful. In short? We should work together and base decisions on reason – not emotion. Insert book suggestion: Al Gore’s Attack on Reason.
  2. You are born where you are born, and there’s nothing you can do about that. So, when I have a discussion with one of my colleagues at the Institute as an “American,” I am aware that I am not a superpower. I was merely lucky enough, and I was very lucky, to have been born within the borders of a superpower. We don’t discuss things as countries, we discuss things as humans. We bring our expertise to the table, but the overall discussion is global. What’s good for the world will be good for humanity.
  3. Religion has absolutely no place in when discussing geopolitics. I mean exactly that. The singular reason to discuss religion at all, in serious global discourse, is for the purposes of determining geographical areas of prosecution and intolerance in regard to human rights. There is no place in geopolitics for one’s personal religious beliefs or preferences (coming from a devout Catholic).
  4. Negotiating truly is an art form and this is why. Negotiating needs, at least, two willing and able participants. To be willing to negotiate means one is willing to be vulnerable, humble, and open. To be able to negotiate means one has been given a proxy or authority to do so. Imagine how many times a day world leaders do this without our knowledge? So, if there is hope this can be done countless times every hour, there is hope this can be done (WTO Members, I’m looking directly at you) once a day. Negotiating keeps war, poverty, strife, collapse at bay. It is the entire ballgame, but rests securely on both criteria being fulfilled.
  5. The worst times in Switzerland to hold discussions about international policies are the following: just after lunch, when there is a major news story unfolding, if the sun is shining in the city, if there is snow in the mountains, or if there is no more wine on the table. This leaves a great window: when it is raining, the carafes are full of a good Humagne Rouge from the Valais, and there are men AND WOMEN at the table. This is ideal.

Gotta love Handel and the Bible…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNcZgu9yFjU They make my point for me.

Unrealistic Expectations – I’m talking to all of us – the Liberals

The Pope is Catholic. He is going to be anti-abortion. Posting on FB, “I don’t know why he doesn’t just get with the times” or “Who does he think he is…God?” is ridiculous. He’s the Pope.

When someone identifies as, “I’m conservative in all ways,” chances are good that guy or gal is going to be vehemently anti- uh…- many things. I’m always glad to hear that because, well, then I know. I’m not disgusted or pissed off or anything. I just know. That’s how he/she sees him/herself. Period.

What shocks me is why we, I’m talking to the liberals, expect something different? For example, the Pope. We expect the Pope to be a flaming liberal overnight because…? I think he’s fairly transparent, right? Though he is, in my opinion, following the steps of Christ more than I’ve seen in any other Pope, is he going to be hosting a Global Dance Party in Support of Gay Adoption soon? Probably not. Am I expecting him to? Absolutely not. Though, I would LOVE that party. Moving on…

When did we forget “liberal” implies an “open mind” and why do we think we need to change someone who is being transparent? It’s not the transparent ones that need to change – it’s the hypocrites. The liars. These are the people that need a good whack with the truth ruler. With the transparent folks, you know the deal: you take the deal or you don’t. Me? I don’t take it.

Lately, the liberals are becoming like the conservatives and I think it’s due in large part to the 2-party system. We are set up  the moment we are indoctrinated into the “Republicans and Democrats” system to believe there is our way and the other team’s way. Because I’m liberal, it means my beliefs are always right. Wrong. Plenty of my conservative friends and family members have legitimate reasons (I’m not talking about the bats*** crazy ones) for defending certain extreme (in my opinion) beliefs. That’s fine by me because their beliefs have nothing to do with me, even when they affect me as a woman. There are plenty of people out there, in 2015, who believe I am no longer a “delicate flower” that needs to give my little woman’s brain a break from 1-3PM. That’s why my FB friends list looks still looks like a unicorn whizzed rainbows all over it.

Go with me here and this is only my experience (please don’t write me telling me that one time you knew a Swiss guy who voted only SVP).

Switzerland has roughly 28 parties. 28. There is a PARTY for Pirate Protection,  two Communist PARTIES, and a PARTY that wants to protect the little four-legged folks. The Swiss don’t have this American/British “there is only one way and it’s my way” due in large part to the spectrum. Growing up Swiss means you don’t have black and white. You have 28 versions of grey and every canton has an additional version of those 28 versions. The politicians, religious leaders, etc. are transparent and the Swiss find this normal and not worthy of their ire, even when they vehemently disagree with the viewpoint. If the Swiss don’t like the XYZ party’s initiative, they simply…don’t vote for them. In general, they don’t raise holy hell, they don’t post 80 things on FB (maybe 4 is the most I’ve seen from one guy on Twitter). They simply use their feet to show their disagreement.

In this privileged First World in which we live, it’s too bad. See, we set ourselves up when we limit our beliefs to this party (conservative) or that party (liberal). We will travel one road and anyone on another road is “wrong” or “infringing on my beliefs.” Is that true at times? Yes. What’s to do? Not sure…start a new road? Join someone else’s road? Don’t be Catholic. Don’t be Episcopal or don’t live in Dallas county. Don’t be FB friends with Joe the Plumber. Or…there are lots of options.

Think I’m being dismissive? Au contraire mon frère.

“Dallas” didn’t work for me. I didn’t need to change Dallas nor did I need Dallas to “evolve” to meet my expectations (think of how arrogant that sounds?). No, I needed to find a place that worked. For me. I moved across an ocean to find a place that felt better (most of the time) and where I fit a bit better (most of the time). It was not easy and I wish Dallas had been more in line with what I needed, who I was, etc. But, it wasn’t.

Dallas was transparent and I wasn’t buying it. So, I went somewhere else. And…God…it was the best (/hardest) path I’ve ever been on.

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

 

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

 

 

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