Monday, November 23, 2009

Ah, the Romance of Europe!

Every once in a while I think I have figured out how to function day to day here. And then a day like today happens, and Dutch reality slaps me in the face and says, “Snap out of it.”

Here’s what happened. A while ago some of the folks who support us decided to give us a wonderful gift. They decided to pay for an adult tricycle for Gretchen. She needs the stability of a tricycle, but they are fairly expensive so we’d put off buying one when we first arrived. After their generous offer we went ahead and bought one. These folks are experienced in international business, and sent us a check in Euros to pay for it. Today I tried to do the simple task of depositing the check.

I knew that checks are unusual in the Dutch banking system because everything is done electronically. So I decided not to head to the closest bank branch, which is located in a convenience store (and is the only bank I have ever been to where you can also buy porn). Instead I headed to the “centrum,” where the main branch of my bank is. I made a near fatal mistake (the first of many) when I decided to head downtown without thinking of how I was going to pay for parking. They don’t give parking spots away in any city on this continent. It was raining, of course, and I navigated my way to the closest parking garage to the bank. I grabbed the umbrella we keep in the car and because the wind was blowing the rain sideways had to really bring the umbrella down in front of me. I soldiered on in the general direction of the bank, not really being able to see beyond my feet, and after a while found that I had managed to walk myself into a dead end. When I looked up I had no recognition whatsoever of where I was. Oops. So I retraced by steps, went down another street, found myself in another parking garage, walked on and before too long had oriented myself and found my way to the bank.

When you enter the bank you have to take a number, but before you take a number you have to decide if you want to speak to a representative or go to a teller. I have never had to go to a teller before, but today I thought that was what I needed to do and chose “kas” instead of “vragen” at the number machine. Wrong choice. I approached the teller with confidence and explained I wanted to deposit a check. “No,” she said, “We do not accept checks. You will have to wait and speak to my colleague and he can instruct you.” So I waited and after no more than fifteen minutes her colleague told me I have to mail the check to their offices in Amsterdam and made a copy of the instructions of all the things I have to write on the back of the check (the usual things – “I want to deposit this in the bank” in Dutch, my name, my address, my bank account number and “I will not bring another check to the bank again” in Dutch 100 times.) He even gave me an envelope to mail the check in and thought he should make a copy of the check for me, so I left with a bunch of papers in my hands.

Then I thought about paying for parking and decided to use the ATM machine inside the bank to get some money. Bad idea. I have no idea what the ATM machine in the bank is for, but as near as I could tell, it was not for withdrawing cash. I think I possibly could have made arrangements to finance a new boat, but I couldn’t get money from the thing.

So I headed out, clutching my little collection of papers, holding the umbrella close, and navigating my way to the parking garage. Unfortunately, the wind was now behind me and soon the umbrella was inside out. I managed to wrestle successfully with that while holding on to my papers and entered the parking garage, thinking I could use a bank card to pay. No deal. Of the many ways to pay, bank card wasn’t one of them. I set out again and went to another bank downtown, where I used their ATM and got a ten Euro note, which I was able to put into the payment machine to pay the one Euro I owed. The machine spit out my change, all in coins, with such a violent force that I spent the next few minutes finding my coins on the ground.

Successfully having paid, I drove home, a wiser man. This only took an hour and the check is still in my possession. I was enjoying listening to Phoebe Snow sing “Poetry Man” on the way home when the car CD player malfunctioned (as it likes to from time to time) and suddenly I was listening to a guy trying to sell me something in Dutch. But just as I thought this stinks, I turned into our driveway and it switched back to Phoebe and she sang, “You’re the Poetry Man, you make things all right, yeah, yeah,” and I thought “You got it, Phoebe, I am the Poetry Man and I am going to make everything all right.” Yeah, Yeah.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Belgium - There is More Going on Here Than Good Waffles

I’m in Charleroi, Belgium tonight staying with the Murru family. I love this family. Sergio was raised in Belgium but his family is from Sardenia, his wife Roselie has Belgian and American citizenship and is a third generation missionary, and they have three great kids who are all interesting to talk to. This has become one of my favorite places to visit.

Earlier tonight Gretchen and I attended a couple of events on the north side of Brussels. We went to a Belgian Young Life club (called Jeunesse et Vie in French) and I was thinking about how in the US it would be cool if at a Young Life club every person who entered the room kissed every other person in the room. No one is a stranger for long in this culture. Before the club we went to a guitar class that is fairly unique. We met a Belgian guy named Nat who is a minister and we had a chance to talk tonight. When he first started working in this area (and like a classic person from Brussels Nat speaks French, English and Dutch beautifully) he was very invested in a fairly well-known outreach program and tried it nine times without much response. He finally simply asked the question, “What can we offer instead of a pre-packaged program that meets the needs of this neighborhood?” So now they offer language classes and guitar classes and things like that. And he does a sort of revolutionary thing on Sunday mornings. He doesn’t have a traditional church. Instead, they serve some croissants and then someone does what is more or less a sermon and that is followed by what he called a “debate” although discussion might be a better English word. They have several people who come to the Sunday morning times that do not consider themselves Christians but enjoy talking about what they hear on Sundays. I found the whole concept refreshing and was sort of envious of it. I’d love to go to a “church” that non-Christian people wanted to come to and then felt comfortable enough to dig into the message and talk about what they really thought about what is being said.

Nat told me that when he teaches people about relating to folks that don’t share the same faith views, he teaches people to avoid three topics – politics, morals and apologetics. By apologetics I think he meant especially science and ideas about how science and the Bible fit together. Do you know that board game Taboo where you are have to give clues to figure out a word but get a list of words you cannot say? This sort of reminded me of that – how do you talk about Christianity if you don’t talk about these three topics – which more or less seem to consume much of the talk about Christianity in the US if not in the Western world as a whole. Nat said if you venture into these three topics here, people’s defenses go up and you are having an intellectual discussion about ideas but not a heart talk about real things. So I naturally asked what they do talk about with people. He gave a profound answer.

“We tell people we will pray for them when they are hurting or struggling. No one is ever offended by that. And we talk about the love of God.”

That’s it. Pretty simple. And pretty revolutionary.

Speaking of profound answers to questions I’ve asked recently, I also want to post this next exchange because I thought it was very rich and I don’t want to forget it.

One of our staff people in Portugal is a young woman named Ashley from North Carolina. She is a great dancer. I know to look at me you would assume that I am also a great dancer. Sadly that assumption would be false. So I asked Ashley last weekend what the secret to being a great dancer is. She said, “Well, outside of rhythm, the secret is freedom.” I think that answer has wisdom in it way beyond Ashley’s years.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Portuguese Blessings

Lisbon – Okay, I admit I think it is cool to post something from Lisbon. Actually, I am in Cascais, which is so wonderfully beautiful I don’t understand why it isn’t world famous. Lisbon is on a river that empties into the Atlantic Ocean and Cascais is the spot where that river meets the sea. There are hills and cliffs and beaches and I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible out of doors because the weather is warm, the sun has been shining and it feels so refreshing. Of course it is raining today, but that’s going to happen in November. Overall it’s been wonderfully good to be here.

I have become aware that sometimes I communicate in a sort of “out of body” type way, that I can’t quite believe little old Jeff Munroe from little old Grand Rapids, Michigan gets to be where I am having the experiences I have. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here I go again. Last night I was having dinner with three British people who play in the “Lisbon Gulbenkian Orquestra.” One of them plays the French Horn, the other the viola and the third the violin. The French Horn player also is a gourmet cook and he just threw together something on the spot for dinner (which was terrific – turkey and pasta and salad and mango and pineapple) and then we went to downtown Lisbon where we met the French Horn player’s wife, who plays the flute in the orchestra, because she had a ticket for me for their concert last night. Oh, and I also know another French Horn player in the same orchestra, bringing the number of people I know in this orchestra to five, and making Lisbon, Portugal the place in the world where I know the most members of an orchestra.

I am here under the guise of working, and at times the past few days I have worked quite a bit, but the concert last night and the conversation at dinner were pure gifts to me. My spirit was fed. There is something about having a serious talk with folks who have English accents that makes me feel special. I don’t quite know how to explain that.

I also spoke this weekend at a camp to a group of high school kids. A few of the kids are Portuguese and have lived here all their lives. Others are part of the International community and attend one of the International Schools here. I met an American kid who has never lived in the United States, and I asked the other kids to tell me where else they have lived. This is the list of additional countries I collected: Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, France, Brazil, South Korea, Italy, Argentina, Australia and England. There were two kids who were born in Angola who had been sent out of their country because it was engulfed in a civil war. (Did you know, that like in Brazil, Portuguese is the language of Angola?) One of the kids from Angola had also lived in Miami, Florida for a while. He made me laugh because when I told him I was from Michigan he said that he was aware there was an Angola near Michigan and he wondered if he should live there. I assured him I didn’t think they would quite know what to make of him if he showed up saying "I'm home," in Angola, Indiana. He was a really nice kid whose name I can pronounce but can’t spell – if I had to take a guess I’d say it was something like Yvandro. Yesterday we were standing outside of a Starbucks and he asked me if I was going inside to get a coffee. I told him I wasn’t because I don’t like coffee, and he looked surprised and said, “But you are an American, every American I know likes coffee.” I said, “Well, maybe I’m not like every other American you know,” and he quickly became serious and said, “I already know that from listening to you speak to us.” Again, I don’t know if I should pinch myself or not, but to have a refugee kid from Angola say that to me made me very, very happy. It has been good for me to be here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's a Girl! No, it's a Washing Machine!

We learned over the weekend that our Dutch friend Donna is pregnant. She told us Friday night, and then when I saw her on Sunday morning I asked if she and her husband Rian had talked about names yet. Basically, she said, Rian is in huge denial, and that he won’t even talk about any of the preparations they need to make until he sees her stomach start growing. I totally understand that – it takes a while for first-time fathers-to-be to get used to the idea that one plus one equals three, and one of the gifts of pregnancy is that as that belly protrudes there is no denying that the baby is coming.

So I told Donna that I thought Jeff was a beautiful name for a baby, male or female, and she laughed, very similarly to the way Christie and Staffan in Sweden laughed at me when I suggested the same thing to them a few months ago. No one takes the idea of naming a baby after me seriously. I’m learning to live with that disappointment.

But having the conversation with Donna brought back memories of how our kids got their names. It was pretty dopey. I had done my family history and learned that we were a pioneer family in the state of Michigan. My ancestor Jesse Munroe was the first resident of Eagle, Michigan, in something like 1836. So I wanted the name Jesse for a boy and Gretchen agreed. I love the name Jesse – it’s both Biblical and has the whole "Jesse James outlaw" thing going for it. The question we struggled with was what to call a girl. Gretchen wanted the name Elisabeth spelled with an “s” instead of a “z.” My thought was that would mean the kid would go through life with both names misspelled, because our last name is misspelled constantly. (Damn you, President James Monroe!) Her next suggestion was Carolyn, after her college roommate (and a reader of this blog). I said no, that my parents were named Carol and Lynn and since they were divorced I didn’t want to be the one to reunite them. (Sorry Carolyn.) Then she suggested Marilyn, since that was our friend Duey’s wife’s name and it rhymed with Carolyn. There was something familiar about that. I don’t know, what do you folks think about naming your daughter Marilyn Munroe? So I finally came up with a list of names I could live with that were all variations on the same theme – I liked Allison (because of an Elvis Costello song, truth be told) and Emily and Amelia and Amanda. Gretchen agreed to Amanda.

The next issue was middle names. Since I had argued so hard on the first names, I backed off on the middle names. Jesse’s middle name is Scott, which is a significant family name for Gretchen. She had a brother who died several years ago named Scott, and it was also her mother’s maiden name. I liked the name because Munro is the name of a Scottish clan. We had no problem with Scott. But we totally caved in and let ourselves be bribed on our girl’s middle name. Gretchen’s mother said, “If you name her after me, I will buy you a new washing machine.” Well, Gretchen’s mother’s name is Susan and Amanda’s middle name is Susan. The washing machine lasted until Amanda was in high school, thank you very much.

My grandfather always used to plead with us never to name any of our children after him or my grandmother. I don’t know, I always wanted a couple of kids named Clarence and Cleva. I don’t think there was ever any danger of us naming humans after them, but they do sound like good pet names, don’t they? What I'd give for a gerbil named Clarence.

All of which makes me think of Eric and Katie Kuiper, who are expecting baby number three before too long. The first two are Simeon and Judah, which means they’ve got a 12 tribes of Israel thing going, and I wonder if Asher or Naphtali or Gad is on the way.

I am thinking there must be some other great stories out there about all the fun communication between couples that goes on when coming up with names for your children. I want to hear from you about it. I love those families that have four kids: John and Jeremiah and Josiah and Bob. How the heck did Bob happen? Let me know. It can’t be worse than taking a bribe or considering naming your kid after a sex symbol, can it?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some Book and People Notes

I just took Maury out around the neighborhood in the gloaming – it was totally wet and dark-- and counted twenty seven people on bicycles that passed us on our walk. I was wearing a raincoat, an ear warmer, and gloves; they were all in jackets or sweatshirts and moving along at a normal pace. I don’t know how they do it. I am not Dutch.

There were two encounters I had yesterday that I want to write about. First, I met a fifteen-year old and a seventeen-year old from, of all places, Middleville, Michigan. Their dad was a missionary in Poland for three years and then decided he needed more education, and for the past year and a half they’ve lived in the Netherlands while their dad goes to school. As I was talking to them I said, “You know, you can’t go back to Middleville,” and they said, “Why not?” and I said, “Because your world is so much bigger now than the kids you left behind there. You know Polish and German and French and Dutch and your friends are worried about who they will see at the latest high school football game and going to the mall.” And their eyes lit up and they said, “We want to go to the mall,” and I told them I was at the Woodland Mall last Friday night and about the new gargantuan Barnes & Noble they’ve built there, and I could see their hearts melting with envy. What a funny world. The seventeen-year old is going to college next year, and when I asked her where she said, “Someplace on the East Beltline,” which means Kuyper, Cornerstone, Calvin or Davenport, and it just struck me as surreal to be talking about colleges in my hometown of Grand Rapids with a kid in the Netherlands.

Then I met a young woman from Alaska who has a French mother and American father who described herself as a third-culture kid and we talked about not fitting in the US and not being really European. She actually brought up how frustrating it is to go to Chili’s, which made me smile because of my recent blog post about that. And then I said, “Why can’t Americans learn how to bake bread?” and she waxed rhapsodic about the higher value Europeans put on food and social situations involving food. At one point she said to me, “How often do you go back to the US” and I said, “About every three or four months, I just got back on Sunday night,” and she said, “Oh, are you jet lagged?” and I said “Of course,” and then she said, “And food doesn’t taste that good to you,” and I admitted that was true and she said, “Well, I call that the price of living an interesting life,” and I loved that comment. She made me feel good about feeling lousy.

Meeting her made me think of what I am going to do next week. I get to go to Cascais, Portugal (where I am confident the sun will be shining), and I am speaking at a Young Life camp for “third-culture kids,” kids who go to International Schools whose parents are either in International business or the military and who are American but who have often lived everywhere in the world except the United States. These kids fascinate me and it is a challenge to speak to them. You just can’t toss anything by them, they are way too smart. So, as I am preparing to speak to this extremely sophisticated group of kids, I’ve been re-reading NT Wright’s masterpiece “Simply Christian.” If you are wondering if the Christian story makes any sense and what in the world it all might mean, you should read this book. NT Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham, and we made a pilgrimage to the great cathedral at Durham about four years ago. Durham is where the river Wear is, where Godric (another great book, this one by Frederick Buechner, you really need to read that one, too) lived, and we were amused by the advertisement outside the Cathedral cafeteria that included a review from the “Sunday Times” which said, “Everything you would expect in a Cathedral cafeteria.” Anyway, NT Wright’s book is without parallel.

And finally, another book plug on this dark and rainy night. I’ve been quoting Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” in these pages lately because it is so good. She writes about discovering God in the everyday; that spirituality isn’t some quest to find something out there but waking up to what’s already here. Do yourself a favor and read that one, too. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dutch Dullness Yields to Dale

Someone asked me when I was in Michigan what in the world loving your enemies means and how we are supposed to do that. I felt like I was at a loss because those words of Jesus come from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, and the greatest commentary on Matthew is by Dale Bruner, but my copy of that commentary was in the Netherlands, not in the US. So, I’ve been reading Bruner today. It’s either read Bruner or contemplate the endless shades of grey in the Dutch sky, so I settled on Bruner. What he says is so good I want to share it with the world, or at least the small fraction of the world that reads this blog.

Before I start with what he said, let me say a few words about Dale Bruner. He is about the sweetest, gentlest person I’ve ever met, a little elf of a man who in his retirement spends countless hours studying and reading. He once said to me with great enthusiasm, “Jeff, I get to sit in a carrel in the Fuller Seminary library and spend my days with the greatest literature the world has ever known. What could be better than that?” And I, introverted Jeff Munroe, said, “Um, maybe talking to people?” and he said, “Well, of course, but I talk to a lot of people through my books” and I am envious of that. He’s the kind of guy who once wrote to me, “Your letter was a Balm in Gilead” and I believed him. He can get away with sounding like the King James Version of the Bible because he is so sincere.

So, here are some highlights on loving your enemies.

This statement of Jesus’ is unlike anything anyone else has ever said. It is without parallel in ancient wisdom texts. Statements like this make Jesus utterly unique.

The command is communal, not just individual. To capture the essence of it, Bruner translates the text: You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you folks, You people love your enemies and you people pray on the behalf of the people who are persecuting you so that you may really be the children of your Father in the heavens, because he is shining his sun right down on evil people and on good people, and he is sending his rain down on righteous people and on unrighteous people. For you see, if you folks just love the people who are loving you, what kind of reward do you think you should get for that? Aren’t even the extortionist-tax collectors doing the same? And if you folks just give warm greetings to your spiritual brothers and sisters, what is so special about that? Aren’t even the pagans doing the same thing? So then, you folks are going to be a perfectly mature people, just as your heavenly Father is perfectly mature.

Because it is communal, Jesus is telling the church to be inclusive, not exclusive. We cannot want the destruction of whatever group we perceive as being the enemies of God. I can think of lots of groups the American church at least has perceived that way, and I will leave it to you to fill in your own thoughts. Jesus is re-interpreting all those destruction references in the Old Testament and telling us to read them differently. Bruner says, “Jesus is Lord even over Scripture…Christians can no longer read vengeance texts as binding…the disciple will never again be able to enter crusades of any kind…the problem with hatred is that it almost always sees others as the chief problem: a warped self-righteousness infects all crusades.”

What does it mean to love our enemies? How can we do this that sounds so extraordinarily difficult? Jesus starts with the little step of simply praying for them. We should do for them what they cannot and will not do for themselves. “Often, in hard fact, the only viable or even honest way we can love our enemies is to pray for them.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Bruner tells us, Jesus’ commands take us back to the splendor of the Beatitudes. What Beatitude does loving your enemy take us back to? Surely the seventh: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” If we didn’t get it, Jesus makes it clear when he gives us this motive for loving our enemies: “so that we may become children of our Father in the heavens.” Bruner writes, “This is the divine carrot, the great come-on of Jesus’ Command: intimacy with God.”

All that stuff about the rain and the sun being equally distributed to the good and bad alike? Jesus is telling us God loves his enemies, so we should too.

Bruner uses the phrase “perfectly mature” to capture the goal for us, instead of the word “perfect,” which almost all of our Bible translations use. I think that is an inspired choice. Perfect is too cold, too unattainable, too distant, too, well, too perfect a word to attain to. “Mature” is what it is all about. Grow up. Be who you were created to be. Be fully human.

He closes the section with this:

Love. Christian maturity is a whole-souled commitment, for Jesus’ sake, to protecting other people. Christian maturity is looking at everyone we meet and saying, at least to oneself, “I will never, God helping me, do anything to hurt you: either by angrily lashing out at you, lustfully sidling up to you, faithlessly slipping away from you, verbally oiling you up, protectively hitting you back, or even justifiably disliking you.

Thanks Dale, for shining a bright light into a very dull Dutch day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The High Cost of Being Cheap

Rome - There’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote I love that says, “Strange travel directions are dancing lessons from God.” I have some strange travel directions to get from my home in Grand Rapids to my home in Dordrecht. I saved over $1000 on travel expenses by flying through Chicago on this trip. The way over was simple, the way back complicated (via Rome on Alitalia) but through the magic of, yours truly is suffering to save money, which I call the high cost of being cheap. I figure it easier to have a strange itinerary than to find a new $1000 donor. My trip started at 9am in Grand Rapids on Saturday and right now it is 10am in Rome on Sunday, and if everything goes well from here I will walk in the door in Dordrecht around 6 tonight. With all the time changes factored in, that’s still about 26 hours to get home, and the worst part is that I missed the extra “fall back” hour of sleep you got last night – I was losing 6 hours while you gained one.

I decided on the drive to Chicago that I would choose joy instead of orneriness and grumpiness on this trip. I decided to have as much fun as possible and see how many people I could bless along the way. My first chance came on the South Side of Chicago when I stopped to fill up my rental car before turning it in. I had to go inside to get my receipt from a rotund African-Amercan woman with the face of an angel, who was sitting in a sort of cage behind large amounts of bullet proof glass. She said, “Here you go, baby,” as she handed me the receipt, and I took a step away and then stopped and said, “Thanks for calling me baby. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me today.” She roared and roared and was beaming as I walked out.

I found it was cheaper to rent a car at Midway Airport than O’Hare Airport, and cheaper still to ride a shuttle between the two places than to rent a car at one and return it to the other. So, on the shuttle I tried and failed to initiate a conversation with the man sitting behind me in the turban with the enormous moustache. I was so hoping I could get to the point with him where I could say, “What’s the deal with the turban and soup strainer?” but it didn’t happen. A few years ago I hosted a group of Amish people who wanted to see TimberWolf Lake and about half way through the tour I felt free enough to ask them, “What’s the deal with the neck beards?” but this wasn’t the same. (By the way, despite repeated requests, the Amish would not give me a hat.) Anyway, the man in the turban spent most of the ride on his cell phone speaking what I assumed was Hindi. It seemed ironic to me that we dropped him off at the American Airlines terminal while I was taken to the International Terminal.

Standing in a non-moving security line at O’Hare (after checking in on Alitalia, which is conveniently located between Pakistani Air and Air India), I started to study the buttons on the backpack of the Japanese young woman in line in front of me. One of the buttons said “(Heart) my body,” and that made me interested in talking to her. That last line sounds lecherous, so let me explain. I know from a lifetime of experience that body-image is often the overwhelming issue for young women. Mary Pipher’s “Reviving Ophelia” lays out powerfully how so many seemingly self-confident pre-pubescent girls wilt under the pressures of adolescence. So, I liked the button and the sentiment it proclaimed. I broke the ice and found out she was from Tokyo, attending grad school in Public Health specializing in genetics at the University of Michigan, and was heading to Mexico City for fall break to visit some friends. She seemed like a great young person, and I thought of three things I could say that might bless her.

First, I boldly told her what I do for a living. I wanted her to experience an inquisitive, friendly Christian. My hunch was verified by her response when I told her I was a minister – it seemed like the farthest possibility from her mind.

Second, I made sure I told her how impressive she was. Her English was fantastic(I couldn’t hear an accent) and I can't imagine how smart she must be to get into a great school like U of M (tough for a Spartan to admit but true) and to be doing graduate work in English.

Third, I made sure I told her that she had great eyes. She wasn’t one of the magnificent beauties of the world, but her eyes were pretty. My theory is that the reason I knew she was Japanese before we started talking was her eyes, so I decided to compliment what made her distinctive. I tried the same approach with the Muslim woman’s head covering last week and it worked both times.

We talked about a lot of things while we stood in line, like Ann Arbor, where I lived a long time ago, and my own daughter’s grad school ambitions, and all the security rules that defy logic (for example, in the US it’s take your shoes off and leave your belt on, in Europe it’s take your belt off and leave your shoes on). By the time we got to the other side of the scanners and said goodbye she had a big smile on her face and I felt she headed toward Mexico City feeling just a bit more confident and sure of herself.

On the plane I read these lines from Barbara Brown Taylor: “What we have in common is not religion but humanity…encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get…The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.”

That’s what I am trying to do, especially while I travel. I got a few laughs out of Alitalia, we were an hour and a half late leaving and no one seemed to care or be in a hurry, as a matter of fact the pilot saw a couple he knew in the waiting area and he spent 45 minutes talking to them while all the other crew members were entering the plane. Once we were in the air after about 20 minutes they showed the safety video. I wonder what all the people who don’t know how to fasten a seat belt did? Alitalia definitely had their own way of doing things. My seat mate was from Bulgaria, and he was suffering from a bit of Eastern European-itis, which is another way of saying he was very quiet and not interested in talking and an arm chair psychologist might even say projecting a bit of shame out there for the world to encounter. There was an American couple across the aisle and I talked to them for a bit, she fell into my lap early on the flight and sadly, that wasn’t a very pleasant experience for me. She also broke her arm rest and I fixed it, being the handyman I am. They were on their way to a cruise – the 30th cruise they had taken in their lifetime and they were one trip through the Suez Canal short of having circumnavigated the globe on cruise ships. She said, “We’ve seen the whole world, well, actually, we’ve seen the coasts of the whole world, we really don’t spend much time in the interior.” She seemed to enjoy telling her husband what to do and speaking rather brutally to him, and he seemed to enjoy taking it. I told them I enjoyed the interiors of countries and actually meeting the people who live in these countries, and I could tell that seemed like a wild and crazy idea.

Now I am in Rome and exhausted, but I always wanted to post something from Rome, so here goes.

Addendum – Now it is about 8pm and I have been home for 90 minutes – nothing much eventful happened the rest of the way. I slept a lot, first in the waiting area, then on the plane to Amsterdam (where I was sitting in the same row as a Dutch woman who was also traveling home via Rome for a cheap ticket) and finally on the train to Dordrecht. It was pouring rain in Dordrecht and I let it soak me through trying to find the bus home. The whole central station is under construction and in the dark I couldn’t see where the busses are now. Finally, I did see a taxi cab and asked God to forgive me for doing something nice for myself on this trip that seemed to have a monastic self-flagellation quality to it. I spent 10 euro more on the cab than the bus would have been, and got out of the rain and home quickly. As we were approaching home the cab driver said, “You have had a long journey but relief is in sight.” Amen. That man is a true prophet.