In late October we visited the old Coventry Cathedral, eviscerated by Second World War bombs, and saw these decapitated stair steps.
War leads nowhere
The stairway remnants, alone in the vast emptiness of the bombed out church, used to lead somewhere, but now they don’t. War robbed them of their purpose.
But the periphery of the cathedral serves as a testament to reconciliation. The cities of Coventry in England and Dresden, Kiel and Berlin in Germany have worked together to process what happened, heal the damages and reconcile with each other.
“Reconciliation” by Josefina de Vasconellos
The inscription below this sculpture reads: “. . . in the face of destructive forces, human dignity and love will triumph over disaster and bring nations together in respect and peace.”
Better yet, let’s try hard together to skip the destructive forces part and simply live in the respect and peace.
I live in a land of timber. How could a simple tree impress a Canadian? But many times on our recent trip to England we stopped to marvel at the wonder of a tree.
Like this giant one at Winston Churchill’s Chartwell estate.
We asked the gardener to repeat the name of this tree several times. She stuck with the Latin, which we think was Cryptomeria japonica. (Would it have been too much to ask for her to say simply Japanese cedar?)
And this scenic one at Hampstead Heath.
But my favourite was this one. This tree could begin talking to me at any second and impart to me grand wisdom about life. I think this tree is telling me to stay rooted in what’s important because I already have everything I need, and to breathe.
Her Wonder Day would not be for work, worry, doing or wanting. It would be for walking, dancing, holding hands, contemplating and enjoying the sweetness of life.
This week I’m wonder walking in London, England. As I walk and bump up against history on every block, I wonder and learn. As I meet new people, fall into the magic of West End theatre productions and expand my knowledge of British ales, I appreciate how “wonder” full the city is.
If a full Wonder Day is out of reach, even a Wonder Moment pivots a day from ordinary to holy.
What in your environment right now makes you wonder about it?
What in your environment right now make you think, How wonder-full?
I jotted the note, without a thought, when we were setting a tentative date for a Death Café we plan to hold at our church.
Only later, when I returned to the page, did I laugh out loud thinking what someone who didn’t understand the context would make of that note. They’d think, “Boy, is she organized.”
No, I’m not penciling in my imminent demise, just planning an evening for people “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
At a Death Café people eat cake, drink tea and talk about something we need to talk about more. Because, let’s face it, whether it’s written in our calendar or not, it’s coming!
It’s not a grief session or counselling. Just open discussion.
I realized how taboo the subject is when I puzzled over what to call this post.
A date with death. Love it. But how many people would think, “Oh no! Arlene’s going to die?!”
Talking about death. Also good, but so many people cringe at the idea of death. (The very ones who could benefit from a Death Café.) They would think, “Ugh,” and delete the e-mail without reading it.
10 ways to talk about death. The SEO people are always trying to get me to put numbers in titles. But (a) I don’t know ten ways and, (b) the same group of people would say, “Ugh,” and delete.
I couldn’t find a way to include the word “death” in my title that wouldn’t either give the wrong impression or turn people away. If you’re in Ottawa, Canada on November 6, you could come and eat cake with me. If not, find someone else and make a date with death.
You might end up laughing out loud.
I highly recommend Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. He writes about “contingency sims”–death simulations, really. (Even astronauts find the word “death” taboo.)
[Contingency sims] force us to think through our own demise in granular detail: not only how we’d die, but what would happen afterward to our families, colleagues and the space program itself. … What to do with the corpse?… What kind of help would crewmates need to deal with the trauma?… How should the PR people respond?…
Death sims are not weepy, grief-stricken affairs. They’re all about brass tacks. Although family members aren’t required to participate, Helene [his wife] has joined in several times because she has quickly discovered that taking the time to verbalize what you think you would do in the worst-case scenario quickly reveals whether you’re really prepared or not….
I reviewed my will, made sure my financial affairs and taxes were in order, and did all the other things you’d do if you knew you were going to die. But that didn’t make me feel like I had one foot in the grave. It actually put my mind at ease and reduced my anxiety about what my family’s future would look like if something happened to me. Which meant that when the engines lit up at launch, I was able to focus entirely on the task at hand: arriving alive.”
In The Philosopher’s Kiss, a historical novel about the French philosophers who created the first encyclopedia, author Peter Prange describes an 18th Century Paris shrouded in impenetrable fog. The fog, mixed with the sooty smoke of that period, hung dense and unmoving between the buildings.
With the city sounds muted and their sight blinded, people bumped against each other in open squares or walked up to the door of the wrong house. Coach men felt for curbs with their hands.
In those circumstances the magistrates called on the blind for assistance. The ones who usually passed their days huddled on the stones crying out for alms were paid to guide citizens safely through the city. In those circumstances Paris was a city that only the blind could see.
The passage in Prange’s book turns the old expression “the blind leading the blind” on its head. That phrase, based on a Bible passage: “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39) portrays the blind as less able, less than others.
In fact, the blind can lead the blinded. In fact they are the best candidates to lead others who have become over-dependent on only one of their senses.
The passage prompted me to wonder, on what senses have I become over-dependent? What am I missing?
Some days I barely manage to thole the Twitter experience. Other days, it sends wonderful gifts.
Last week, @RobGMacfarlane sent this gift:
Word of the day: “thole” – to endure with fortitude, to cope with suffering or challenge patiently & with dignity (Scots).
This is one of my favourite Scots verbs; quietly, toughly inspiring. If a situation is “tholeable” it is, in the end, with courage & support, survivable. pic.twitter.com/mv3U7x0OPD