Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Letter on Learning

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." Book of Hebrews, as quoted in Keith Donohue's Angels of Destruction.

Dear readers,

Since I can't have those "Here's what I learned in class today" moments at the dinner table, I've decided to tell you what I learned this week in daily life.

I have so much to learn. This week, I met an 83-year-old man named Robert, who by lucky chance (for me) was seated next to me at the Banff film festival (think National Geographic, come to life on screen), which I attend each year with my sweetheart. Robert was telling me about this book: Slave: My True Story, by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis, a true story about a 12-year-old sold into slavery in 1993. He said it's one of the best he's ever read. I love readers. I once saw a man walking to work in front of me with a brown bagged lunch and a library book and thought - how great, he's frugal because he's bringing his own food, and he's smart and budget minded reading a library book! Anyway, Robert is a retired reference librarian, and I agreed with his sentiment that another lifetime is needed to finish everything one wants to read.

What are you reading? I'm in the middle of Celia Rees' Witch Child, about a 14 year old girl who may or may not be a witch fleeing England in 1659 for America. I thought about how witches were an easy source of blame, and how witches take many forms. I also thought about the displacement of people fleeing tyranny caused the displacement of others whose lands they occupied. It was Tori Amos (who has a Cherokee bloodline) who sang in a Cherokee edition of Home on the Range, "Jackson made deals, a thief down to his heels. Hello long trail of tears. The white man came, this land is my land this is your land they sang."

I've just ordered Ben Gadd's Raven's End directly from the author after seeing his stunning words featured in A Life Ascending, which follows mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger and his family in British Columbia. They said there's a belief if people who die who love the mountains, they come back as a raven to live there.

Here' a preview of that film.

"I believe that mountains have energy in them which get passed onto us as we travel in it. I believe mountains are fully alive," Ruedi says.

Isn't he so right? Do you get positive energy from nature?

I have so much to see. When a film was on showing footage of the Grand Canyon, my sweetheart, Steve, to the right, whispered, "I was there." He had gone with his brother in the B.C.-age (before Catherine). Robert, to my left, said, "I was there with my daughter." (He biked from New York to California after retirement. I get winded walking up a flight of steps). I thought - I need to see these things. Other than a childhood trip to Hawaii and California (I've been to the latter to San Diego on business as well), I haven't left the East Coast in my 35 years.

Robert might not have been an angel, but I'm so glad I spoke to him. Speaking to each other - something we don't do enough. Everyone's face down in their gadgets checking e-mail or Facebook status, missing it all (yes, as soon as the intermission began, poof, out came the gadgets).

I'm coming to peace with the fact that my time machine idea isn't so realistic, and I was inspired by Michael Stipe's reading of a poem, Blue, in R.E.M.'s Collapse Into Now.

"I am made by my times, I am a creation of now, shaken with the cracks and crevices. I'm not giving up easily. I don't have much, but what I have gold.

This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive.
Living, blessed, I understand this.
Twentieth century, collapse into now."

I am thrilled to be alive. I hope you are too, and you are filling your life with experiences that make it richer, and people that make you better, even if you only sit next to them for a fleeting moment.

That's what I learned in life this week. While learn wouldn't fit into my favorite four letter words, perhaps I can add, "Know."



  1. You always get me thinking...
    I had a spate of voracious reading over the holidays and then stopped. Mostly I listen to stories/books on the BBC whist painting, though I love a good book on the subway.
    But then there's the weekly New Yorker to get through which contains many books-to-be.
    I haven't traveled much in the US either, though lots outside. I have to go to Austin for a family wedding in April - UGH.
    Everyplace I've visited in the US was for work rather than desire.
    Yet I'm always surprised at my short sightedness when I do get there.
    On the other hand I love meeting interesting strangers - like reading a short novel -very satisfying.
    merci carolg

  2. Thanks so much. That's one of the best compliments I can get - to get people thinking.

    I've traveled in Europe more in the U.S., and it's amazing how I meet Europeans who have travelled all over my own country. There are so many things even in New York City I haven't done...gone to the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. I rarely see a Broadway show, and people come all over the world to do these things.

    What a nice way to look at meeting strangers as a short novel. You never know what the story will bring.

    I think of something Tori Amos said, not in song, but in commentary,

    "People come in and out of your life, sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. And all of them make you what you are. You can't separate these people out of you. They form who you are, even the ones you say, "I don't know if I want to be formed by them anymore." But you are in some way. Maybe that's why you don't have to look at them so harshly, because they have affected you.”

    In the end though, it's us as individuals, with our love for the land, for something intangible, that when soul mates come and go, you're never alone even when you're standing just you and your shoes, because you carry them with you."

    I carry so many people with me, and like Tori and Ruedi, have such a love and reverence for the natural world.