20–Year Love Affair

I realized the other day that I was wrapping up my semester abroad in England 20 years ago this month. I chose to study in England because I didn’t have proficiency in another language…and I’m convinced that I was destined to start a love affair with England.

I went from studying at a small state college a 30-minute drive from my family to studying at a large research university with tens of thousands of international students thousands of miles from my family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for it. I studied at the University of Leeds with my two friends, Sam and Ellen, which eased the homesickness.

Many of my experiences were those of a typical college student. I remember that the coursework was tough and I was glad that my grades didn’t factor into my GPA at home. I joined the chorus and sang Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols in the city streets in December. Ellen and I joined a musical theater club and performed in the musical Chess. I subsisted on jacket potatoes with shredded cheese at the refectory (dining hall) and spent hours at a time doing this new thing called emailing in the computer lab. I lived in Clarence Dock, a dorm that was far from campus, so I spent many nights taking the “women’s minibus,” a shuttle that departed from campus and dropped people off at their dorms/apartments.

Not-so typical experiences included weekend trips to Liverpool, where we consumed everything Beatles; Dublin, where we drank Guinness in pubs and saw The Book of Kells at Trinity College; and London, where my wallet was stolen (I don’t remember anything else from that trip).

I consider that I started on the path to adulthood during my semester in England. Even though I had traveled abroad in high school, it was here that I really grasped that there was a whole world outside of the United States. I gained a newfound appreciation for my family and friends. I learned from people of other cultures and they learned from me.

Another opportunity of a lifetime tied to my semester abroad was the three-week trip around Western Europe that I took after the semester ended with Ellen and my friend Daisy. Twenty years ago at this very moment, Ellen and I were sitting in a bohemian bed and breakfast in a frigid Corfu, Greece, watching American movies with Greek subtitles and listening to Radiohead’s The Bends album with a small group of new friends.

We had just come from Rome, where we were blessed by the Pope on Christmas Day. We would be meeting our friend Daisy in Milan next and heading to Venice for New Year’s. And then back to Rome and on to Spain and France. Armed with Eurail passes, a thirst for adventure, and not enough clothing for one of Europe’s coldest winters, we visited countless museums, ate delicious and sometimes strange food, and made friends of fellow travelers along the way. If I could turn back the clock and do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.

As I sit with my Twinings tea and McVittie’s Ginger Nut cookies, I insist that if you are thinking about studying abroad or know someone who is thinking about it, you/he/she/they DO IT. It’s worth every penny of the extra student loans.

England now feels like a second home to me—and my mother! She visited me when I worked in London for six months after graduation (that 20th anniversary is next December). And the rest is history, as they say. We’ve visited England five or six times since and have many wonderful and funny memories. I feel lucky that we fell in love with the same place.

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Past-Life Regression

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Past lives—what do you think about it? Are they real?

I’d never given it much thought until my mother, one of the most logical, “black and white” people I know, had a few “visions” in England. I witnessed her experiencing one as we toured Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District. It was pretty wild. She experienced a traumatic event; let’s just keep it at that.

So when I won a travel package to Salem, one of the items was a free past-life regression session with Susan DameGreene. I skimmed her website and watched a video interview with her before my session. I liked her! She seemed gentle and wise.

Her office is on the floor above Salem’s post office, which I totally love. A few rooms on the floor are rented out but most of them are empty. All of the doors are wooden with the old cracked glass panes and many still had gold lettering on the glass.

When I arrived, Susan greeted me warmly and offered me water. She asked me some questions about myself and explained what we were about to do. There would be three parts: first, I would recall a past life. Then, I would go to some “middle place” that had a cool name but it escapes me now. I would experience my own death and loved ones who have died would greet me. Lastly, I would have a conversation with someone who hurt me. I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t know what to expect. Would it work? Would I remember a traumatic event in a past life?

I sat down on the couch, head propped up on pillows. And Susan started guiding me through the hour-long experience.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it worked 100%. I struggled a bit at first and didn’t really “see” myself in a former life. But I did either access one or make one up. As Susan asked guiding questions, I told her that I was a baker in England’s Lake District and was married to a sensitive writer with a mustache.

BUT, let me interrupt myself and say this: I do believe that past-life regression can work if you have something in your life that you want to work on. As Susan said, in other countries, this is considered a type of therapy akin to talk therapy. I just happened not to have a trauma to work through at this time. Lucky me, right?

So back to the second part of the experience. Again, lucky me: I’ve only lost one loved one so far: my paternal grandmother. I never met my maternal grandmother, but I know we would have been best pals. So I talked my way through my death of old age (my husband preceded me in death) and was greeted by my two grandmothers. I don’t recall if we had a conversation or not…

The last part of the session was a catharsis. Susan told me to get mad at someone who has hurt me and encouraged me to whack a pillow that she was holding. I have trouble getting angry in general, so I did the best I could. I voiced my anger at an ex-boyfriend and quite enjoyed whacking the pillow as I did it.

Overall, it was an interesting experience. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different way to work through an issue. My mother is interested in seeing Susan when she visits in a few months, and I can’t wait to see what transpires!

 

The Wild Bunch

I don’t think I grasped the true meaning of the phrase “Wild West” until I saw the film The Wild Bunch a few weeks ago.

This film holds the 80th place on AFI’s top 100 list. AFI also deemed it the sixth-best Western of all time.

When a slew of innocent bystanders were riddled with bullets within the first 10 minutes of the film, I knew it was going to be a violent ride. The Wild Bunch is a group of outlaws, some of them retirement age, who are ready to retire after one last robbery in Texas. Unfortunately they’re duped and they head to Mexico for refuge. They make a deal with a corrupt Mexican general to steal a shipment of U.S. guns for him in exchange for money. To make a long story short, it doesn’t end well at all.

I would bet money that Quentin Tarantino was inspired by this film…

The Wild Bunch

Courtesy of loftcinema.com

Give Me a Child until He Is Seven

…and I will give you the man.

This is the premise of the British documentary series known as the “Up Series.”

In 1964, an English television director chose fourteen 7-year-olds from different socioeconomic groups and different geographical areas of England and filmed them, intending to introduce people to the future laborers and executives of the year 2000.

What started as a one-off program became a series. Every seven years, those who wish to participate are filmed, which means there are currently eight films. The last film, 56 Up, was released in the States in 2013.

I don’t remember when I watched the first one; it may have been Christmastime, because I was at my mom’s house. As I watched it, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it through all of them because I could barely understand what those 7-year-old munchkins were saying! All of the different accents: the children were from London’s East End, wealthy parts of London, Liverpool, the Yorkshire Dales. They were all adorable and most of them were talking very fast.

I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad that I did. There was something fascinating about watching them go through all of the stages of life. Carefree and thoughtful children, awkward teenagers, young adults, middle age. None of their stories are remarkable: almost all of them get married by 21 or 28, have kids by 35, bury parents by 42 or 49. Many of them get divorced and remarry. But as Nick said in 56 Up, “It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”

As filming continued, the director wanted to frame the story in a political way, showing the difference in the high and low classes. But that angle fell away at some point and the focus shifted to everyone’s personal stories. It was apparent, though, that the wealthier people were more reticent about being filmed and tended to stay married. That being said, most of the lower to middle class people seemed perfectly content with their lives.

Even though many of the participants weren’t entirely keen on being filmed and becoming “celebrities,” ten out of fourteen of them have participated in all eight films. None of them initially “volunteered” to be filmed; it was their parents or their teachers who signed them up to participate. Thank you, Bruce, Andrew, John, Lynn, Jackie, Sue, Symon, Paul, Nick, Suzy, Peter, Neil, Tony, and Charles, for sharing your life with the world.

If you enjoy watching documentaries, these are a must. Roger Ebert included them in his top ten greatest films of all time list, for goodness’ sake!

Up Series

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

The Meaning of Hospitality

hospitality (noun) 1. Cordial and generous reception of or disposition toward guests.

Last week, I went on my third annual silent retreat at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s home north of the city. I continue to be in awe of how welcoming and hospitable this monastic community is.

I love living in a city, yet I seem to effortlessly fall into the rhythm of working, eating, worshiping, reading, and sleeping when at Emery House.

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It is such a welcome change to unplug from the world and have no daily obligations except for working in the garden, attending a few services, and eating three meals.

I reveled in the simple acts of gardening, eating in silence, and reading in the library. I read two thought-provoking books: I brought Taking Our Places with me and found A Year to Live in Emery House’s library. The gist of both books is the importance of making peace with the past and being mindful and engaged in the present. I have a lot of work to do regarding the latter.

I am prescribing myself more time in nature. It’s so easy to focus on the present moment when one is watching two birds chase each other or contemplating the beauty of a flower.

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I attended three services per day, which had me pondering the meaning of faith and what role it plays in my life. In recent years, I’ve felt more “spiritual,” not subscribing to any one religion. One of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama is:

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Instead of attending church on Sundays, I volunteer at an animal shelter. I guess I express my faith through volunteering.

What role does faith play in your life?

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